PATIENTS needing overnight treatment may have to travel almost 30 miles on account of a reduction in opening hours at Minehead Hospital’s minor injuries unit.
Health bosses have temporarily closed the facility overnight – possibly until August – due to a shortage of trained staff.
The unit will close from 11pm to 7am, meaning some patients could travel to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton for care.
Critics claim the move has sparked health fears across West Somerset and could put off the thousands of tourists which visit the area each summer.
Hotelier Bryan Leaker, who owns Parks Guest House, said: “The major issue is there is now no medical care in the area during these hours.
“The nearest hospital is 27 miles away, there are no bus services in the evenings and a taxi is circa £50 each way.”
The Somerset Partnership and Somer-set Clinical Commissioning Group says the unit treats an average of one or two patients a night but Mr Leaker believes this could grow “ten-fold” in the summer.
He added: “Why have they not app-roached an agency to recruit staff for an interim period? They are cost-cutting, putting health at risk where a population of over 65% are aged 60 or older.
“Having lost out in tourism due to flooding we now need to advise visitors: ‘Come to Minehead and West Somerset at your peril’.”
Ian Liddell-Grainger, MP for West Somerset and Bridgwater, said it was “completely unacceptable” that one of the remotest hospitals in the county should have no night-time emergency cover.
He said: “Patients will be lucky to get to Taunton in 45 minutes. The ambulance service is so stretched at night that I have heard recent instances where it has taken more than an hour for an ambulance to even get to Minehead, so potentially it could be two hours before casualties are even admitted for treatment.
“This is completely unacceptable, particularly when we are coming up to the holiday season when the local population swells by several thousand.”
A Somerset Partnership NHS Found-ation Trust statement said: “This temporary measure was necessary in order to enable the trust to re-deploy its emergency nurse practitioners, thereby maintaining service quality and better managing the rising day-time demand it has been experiencing in MIUs in Bridgwater and Frome.
“The Somerset Partnership Trust is now actively recruiting four additional emergency nurse practitioners, and hopes to have the newly-recruited staff in post within the next few months.”
Anybody needing treatment outside of these temporary opening hours is advised to call 111 to be directed to the appropriate service.