Patients told to avoid hospital A&E
Patients have been told to stay away from a hospital's A&E department unless they have a serious or life-threatening condition.
The alert was issued to people across north east Essex after Colchester General Hospital declared a "major incident".
This was on the back of a surprise inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Wednesday where the health regulator raised "safeguarding concerns". It also found that staff were struggling to cope with "unprecedented demand".
Dr Shane Gordon, the chief clinical officer of the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: "A&E should only be used for critical or life-threatening situations requiring medical attention, such as loss of consciousness, heavy blood loss, suspected broken bones, persistent chest pain, difficulty breathing, overdoses, ingestion or poisoning.
"It is vital that emergency services are free to help people with the greatest need. Patients with minor injuries which do not require a visit to A&E (such as cuts, wounds, sprains, strains and minor burns) can also be treated at walk-in medical centres or minor injury units across north east Essex.
"This will significantly help to relieve pressure on the hospital's A&E teams and reduce waiting times for all patients."
The Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said the major incident is likely to last a week. The trust's interim chief executive, Dr Lucy Moore, described it as "a difficult time for the trust".
In July the CQC gave the hospital an overall rating of "requires improvement".
Peter Wilson, acting chairman of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, told the Guardian it was facing "unprecedented demand" on its services.
Mr Wilson said they were disappointed that the CQC felt the situation at the hospital had not improved, and confirmed it had declared a major incident to review various aspects of service at the hospital.
The CQC said it will publish its latest report on the hospital "in due course", and added that it will carry out further inspections at the trust.
Sir Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, told the BBC: "We've had a year, 18 months of problems at Colchester General Hospital, the former chief executive, chairman and numerous members of the board have all gone, there's a new team in there and I'm hoping that they will turn it around.
"There's no criticism here by the way of the front-line medical staff and support staff, the criticism I have is the management historically and I'm just hoping the new management team are going to sort it out, but clearly this is very worrying."
Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said the Government had ignored warnings about the pressure on A&E services across England and demanded a statement from ministers about the situation in Colchester.
He said: " People in Colchester will be alarmed by these reports. They deserve to know how ministers will turn this situation around.
"The Government must make a statement on whether the hospital is safe, has enough staff and if it is providing acceptable care.
"Minsters have ignored repeated warnings about the chaos in A&E across England and now whole hospitals are being overwhelmed by the pressure.
"By making it harder to get a GP appointment, pushing elderly care services to the brink of collapse and wasting £3 billion on a top-down reorganisation, this Government has caused a crisis in A&E.
"Half of nurses say their ward is dangerously understaffed, and more say safety has got worse over the last year than better - which is why Labour has pledged to recruit an extra 20,000.
"The sad truth is that by causing a crisis in A&E and turning the NHS upside down with a damaging reorganisation, this Government is making care problems more likely, not less."
The CQC said it carried out the surprise inspection after it received "information of concern".
Its inspectors did not see patients being physically restrained but they did see one being given a sedative with no evidence in their notes to suggest that consent had been sought.
The inspection team reviewed the notes of a patient to find that the 'Do not resuscitate' notice from a previous admission had not been followed or reviewed, the CQC said.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said they wanted more information about the situation but added: " However, it would appear that, once again, we have a situation where, despite the best efforts of frontline staff, patients are made to suffer due to circumstances that would appear to be associated with management and funding.
"This is further evidence of a health service at breaking point - a service that is not being provided with sufficient resources to cope with demand."
A Government spokesman said: "We established the role of the independent chief inspector of hospitals, and set up the toughest inspection regime in the world, precisely to root out poor care wherever it takes place - meaning that any problems can be confronted and sorted out quickly, unlike at Mid Staffs where sadly they were allowed to persist for years."