Hospitals enact major incident plan
A surge in demand at emergency departments has forced two hospital trusts to activate major incident plans.
Hospitals in Cheltenham and Gloucester, in Gloucestershire, and at Scarborough, in North Yorkshire, have had to introduce special measures due to the overwhelming numbers of people attending their accident and emergency units.
Managers at Scarborough Hospital said the situation had been brought on by an "unprecedented surge in demand".
The hospital said the decision was taken after patients had been waiting in its emergency department today, unable to be admitted to the main hospital due a lack of beds.
The move means some non-emergency operations have been postponed.
Mike Proctor, deputy chief executive at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, said: "While the winter months are traditionally a busy time for all hospitals across the country, we have been experiencing an unprecedented surge in demand for our services and we have today reached a point in Scarborough where we have needed to enact our major incident plan.
"Today in particular we have had people waiting in the emergency department before being admitted to a bed, and we need to make sure that our hospital beds and resources are saved for those who need them most.
"We have also had to postpone some planned surgery and other procedures, and we apologise to those patients affected by this."
Mr Proctor said: "Both York and Scarborough hospitals will continue to be here to help anyone who needs urgent assessment and care. However the public can really help us by only coming to the emergency departments in an emergency.
"Taking the appropriate action to treat your condition, which might mean contacting your GP or attending a pharmacy, walk-in centre or minor injuries unit, will help to ensure that we are able to treat those patients whose need is greatest.
"Our staff are working extremely hard to maintain these services and are to be commended for continuing to provide excellent care in spite of the pressures they are facing."
A "major internal critical incident" has also been declared at Gloucestershire Royal Infirmary and Cheltenham General Hospital following high demand in their emergency departments.
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the measures brought in include increasing the number of staff in the emergency departments, increasing the beds available across Gloucestershire and promoting community alternatives to hospital admission with health professionals.
Tom Llewellyn, clinical director for emergency care at the trust, said: "We are urging the public to think very carefully before attending our emergency departments. You may receive the care you need more appropriately and in a more timely fashion if you access other health services available."
Helen Miller, clinical chair of NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "It is really important to remember that hospital emergency departments are designed to treat serious injuries and emergencies.
"The choice of healthcare options is often greater than people realise, particularly for the treatment of minor ailments.
"The local pharmacy is a great first port of call for minor ailments. Pharmacists are qualified to give advice on a range of conditions, are experts on medicines and can advise people on whether they need to call or visit another NHS service.
"If people are unsure about what health services to access, they can also visit the Choose Well Gloucestershire website which provides details of all the services available or call NHS 111."
According to the trust, the College of Emergency Medicine believes that between 15% and 30% of patients attending emergency departments could be treated elsewhere.
Last month, Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS in England admitted accident and emergency departments were under pressure.
Speaking at a conference in London, Sir Bruce Keogh said: ''The system is creaking, it is under pressure at the moment.
''A&Es are having to address increasing demand, the ambulance services are struggling in many parts of the country and we have a number of issues to deal with, which we are tackling.''
The Lancashire Telegraph reported that ambulance crews had to queue for up to two hours at the Royal Blackburn Hospital this weekend before patients were handed over.
It said that at one point there were 18 ambulances parked outside and vehicles needed to be drafted in from Manchester and Preston to attend call-outs.
A paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, told the newspaper: "This has become more and more of a problem in the last few weeks and it's reached crisis point, without a doubt.
"The capacity of the hospital is awful because they never have any beds and there's a huge amount of pressure on staff. In some instances they are trying to discharge people so quickly to free up the beds that patients end up getting readmitted.
"There's also huge demand on the ambulance service and they had to bring over crews from Preston and Manchester to cover the area on Saturday."
In a statement, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said: "The Christmas and new year period has been very busy for the Royal Blackburn Hospital with high levels of activity in our emergency and urgent care departments.
"Our priority has been to maintain patient safety at all times and thanks are due to all our staff who have worked so hard over the festive period to ensure this.
"The hospital remains extremely busy and whilst we are in this situation it is very important that people make the right choice of what to do when they are unwell. The emergency department is only for true emergencies involving serious and life-threatening conditions.
"Patients with less serious conditions should contact a pharmacist, visit their GP, attend a minor injuries unit, or ring NHS 111 for advice."