Colchester General Hospital declares major incident as it reaches capacity

Colchester General Hospital.

Colchester General Hospital. - Credit: Su Anderson

A major internal incident has been declared at Colchester General Hospital as it hits capacity.

Peter Wilson, acting chairman of Colchester Hospital University Foundation NHS Trust (CHUFT), announced the move at the beginning of a meeting of the trust’s board of directors yesterday afternoon.

Staff were informed by email earlier in the day.

Major incidents are usually called when a sudden influx of patients is expected, for example in the aftermath of a large road crash or a gas explosion. A command and control centre is set up with minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour reporting.

But although specific figures were not given, health chiefs said the number of attendances at the hospital’s A&E department had stayed a steady high all year round, instead of following a seasonal trend.

The problem has been compounded by a lack of available beds elsewhere in the hospital meaning patients are unable to move through A&E.

The issue is affected a number of trusts nationwide, with local GPs also reporting a similar surge in patients across the year.

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Mr Wilson said: “Yesterday the Care Quality Commission visited here and visited A&E and Emergency Admission Unit departments.

“Disappointingly although they commented favourably on some aspects their general view was that the situation had not improved.

“We have already put actions in place to address some of the issues they face.

“We are however facing an unprecedented demand at the front end and have declared today a major incident, which means a whole hospital review of demand, capacity, staffing levels and discharge processes, and other opportunities for improvement.

“We have established a control centre under the command of the chief operating officer.”

To try to tackle the crisis routine elective operations will be rescheduled and a drive made to discharge as many patients where it is safe to do so.

Extra staff will also be drafted in to ensure safe levels are maintained.

During yesterday’s board meeting updates were given on a number of initiatives already being implemented by CHUFT to address the issue.

An ambulatory care unit will help to assess more people without putting them on a trolley, funded with £2.2million from the local urgent care group, while a clinical decision unit – backed by watchdog Monitor with £1.9million of funding – will help diagnose patients with more complex cases.

A demand and capacity team will manage patients during their hospital stay.

Interim trust chief executive Dr Lucy Moore added: “There are a number of concerns which we are taking very seriously.

“A review showed we are a hospital with too many patients in it and not enough beds, and we are very stretched from a staff point of view.

“It is disappointing but I am confident we are putting in place the things we need to do to create a step-change in our performance.”

It is not yet known how long the incident will last.