Drastic measure to cope with A&E queues

By Patrick LowmanPATIENTS could have be treated in inflatable tents in hospital car parks if the number of people needing accident and emergency treatment continues to grow.

By Patrick Lowman

PATIENTS could have be treated in inflatable tents in hospital car parks if the number of people needing accident and emergency treatment continues to grow.

Some ambulance services – including the East Anglian Ambulance Trust – have introduced the contingency measures to cope if already-overwhelmed accident and emergency departments become overburdened with patients.

The plan has been drawn up following a rise of 15% in the number of emergency admissions at the region's hospitals in the past year. In the past seven years emergency admissions in East Anglia have doubled from 70,000 to 140,000.

The idea is to prevent ambulances from being forced to wait outside hospitals for hours with patients inside the vehicles until a bed becomes available in the accident and emergency unit.

If the situation ever became so dire that there was no room for a patient in a hospital, a tent could be inflated to house the patient until a bed became available.

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If a patient is transferred to one of the shelters, ambulances would then be free to attend other emergency calls. Extra staff, including paramedics, would be drafted into to run the shelters.

Just two weeks ago paramedics were almost forced to use the tents for the first time at Ipswich Hospital. Eventually, the drastic action was not needed as a place was finally found within the hospital for the patient to receive treatment.

Previously paramedics have also come close to setting up one of the tents at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Matthew Ware, spokesman for the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, said: "All of the region's hospitals are on red alert at various times and we have the tents available to be used if we ever need them.

"We have come close to using them on two occasions, but so far we have always managed to find a place in the hospital.

"If the numbers of emergency admissions continue to grow, it is possible we could have to use the tents. There is a contingency plan in place, but it is unlikely we will have to use it because we always manage to find a place within the hospitals."

Similar contingency plans have also been drawn up in other parts of the country as queues continue to grow at accident and emergency departments, meaning ambulances are left wasting valuable time while waiting to get patients admitted.

But Richard Bourne, who is set to become chairman of Essex Ambulance Service Trust on November 10, said: "There are no such plans for these measures in Essex – we don't see a case for needing it.

"We acknowledge that there are problems throughout the country with the way that accident and emergency departments have to deal with the way that people arrive at hospitals who then can't be admitted immediately, but that's not happening at any of the acute hospitals in Essex."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "It is only sensible for all trusts around the country to have their own contingency plans for unforeseen circumstances. So far it has not been necessary to active such measures."


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