Ambulances made to wait outside hospital

AMBULANCES were forced to queue outside a hospital because there were no beds free for patients, it has emerged.

Laurence Cawley

AMBULANCES were forced to queue outside a hospital because there were no beds free for patients, it has emerged.

Fears were raised over the health service's ability to cope over the busy winter period after the severe delays at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

Colchester General Hospital has encountered similar problems this week and Ipswich Hospital has been on “black alert” - meaning fewer than eight beds were available.

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The most serious situation came at West Suffolk Hospital on Monday evening, when paramedics waited with patients while staff tried to find them beds.

One of those who saw the situation unfold said: “Ambulance crews were all waiting over two hours to offload their patients.

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“This involved waiting with their ill patient in a corridor and unable to answer other emergency calls.

“This was due to there being absolutely no beds available in the hospital. On several occasions a patient has deteriorated whilst in this queue.”

“What we need to be aware of is the fact that we have not even reached the 'busy period' and I feel we are heading for disaster.”

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said: “There is real concern out there about the pressures on bed spaces at our hospitals and there's been a decrease in the number of beds as the elderly population is growing. We can only hope and pray that we do not have a winter flu virus this winter as the whole system will then grind to a halt.”

A spokeswoman for West Suffolk Hospital disputed the two-hour wait claim, saying no patient was left waiting more than an hour.

She said: “The hospital was very busy during late afternoon on Monday and at one point there were ambulances waiting outside for a short time.

“We assessed the clinical needs of every patient and prioritised those in urgent need. At no point were any patients put at risk and the situation was resolved quickly, with a bed found for every patient who needed one by early evening.”

A spokesman for the ambulance service last confirmed the problems this week. He said: “We have experienced some delays at peak times at the West Suffolk Hospital and Colchester Hospital in recent days, and have been working with the hospitals to manage and reduce delays to ambulances and patients.”

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, which, although put on black alert during the busiest times had been able to receive new patients from ambulances, said: “We have been extremely busy but we are managing through it.”

A spokesman for Colchester General Hospital apologised to patients affected by long delays at the accident and emergency department. He said: “There was not one specific reason for the 'big spike' in demand but it was exceptionally busy.

“The colder weather was a contributing factor and it had been an extremely busy weekend as well but this is the nature of the business that we are in.”

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