Hospitals feel the strain

BOSSES at an East Anglian hospital are battling against almost unprecedented demands on its staff and resources, they have admitted.For a 90-minute-spell on Friday, a "blue light" alert, which is above red alert and when only emergency patients are admitted, was even imposed at Ipswich Hospital.

BOSSES at an East Anglian hospital are battling against almost unprecedented demands on its staff and resources, they have admitted.

For a 90-minute-spell on Friday, a "blue light" alert, which is above red alert and when only emergency patients are admitted, was even imposed at Ipswich Hospital.

Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust chief executive Paul Forden and accident and emergency director David Hodgkinson insisted: "We will never shut our doors to patients."

Mr Forden said there had been a huge number of emergency admissions to the hospital, about 10% up on last year, which had heaped "phenomenal" pressure upon the trust.


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He apologised to patients who had seen operations cancelled or were left waiting to be seen by a specialist for longer than desired.

"It been very busy and we are constantly under pressure. But we haven't closed the doors and we will not close the doors," said Mr Forden.

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"We are asking people to bear with us and understand the pressure we are under. Everybody has a right of access to the hospital, but we have to base it on clinical priority and the most needy."

There was no one reason why so many people were needing hospital treatment, but an increase in referrals from GPs had added to the trust's workload, and "even small increases can cause distress in the system", according to Mr Hodgkinson.

"We run so efficiently, at maximum speed, that when it goes just over, it becomes very difficult. There is no spare capacity in the system, and we are being driven into that position," he added.

He asked people to consider whether they could be treated by their GP before deciding to go to the hospital.

Mr Forden said the hospital had been working with a bed occupancy rate of round 96% - above the ideal level of about 85%.

"We haven't got the capacity we need and we need to physically increase it, but that will not be happening in a major way until the winter of 2005, or 2006."

He added there were ongoing projects to ease the pressures, such as giving blood transfusions at patients' homes, and said the re-opening of a ward after refurbishment would help.

Both bosses praised the hospital staff for their efforts during the busiest spell of the year.

Mr Forden said: "We have a superb staff who always pull out the stops and they are coping with it – they really are incredible."

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said it remained on red alert and was "extremely busy" – although there was no single cause for the high number of admissions.

Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, which covers Colchester General Hospital, also reported a state of red alert.

A spokesman said the trust had taken some patients from Ipswich Hospital over the weekend to help it deal with its busy spell, but Mr Forden denied this.

Dr Gareth Richards, Suffolk president of the British Medical Association (BMA), said pressures continued to be great on the county's GPs.

He added there were a number of "nasty" bugs across the county with similar symptoms to flu, but not as long-lasting. They had added to the strain's upon the health system.

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