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Plea from our NHS as winter pressures start to bite

Dorothy Hosein, the East of England Ambulance Service's interim chief executive Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Dorothy Hosein, the East of England Ambulance Service's interim chief executive Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

Make the right call – that’s the plea to patients needing to use our NHS as winter pressures start to hit.

West Suffolk Hospital, one of the best-performing trusts in our region, said it is 'coping' with winter pressures Picture: GREGG BROWNWest Suffolk Hospital, one of the best-performing trusts in our region, said it is 'coping' with winter pressures Picture: GREGG BROWN

Demand is up at Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk Hospitals – and with colder temperatures on the way, people are urged to use the most appropriate place for their problem.

Wintry weather is set to arrive today, with the mercury expected to plummet to -5C overnight.

There are also warnings of a second Beast from the East, which sparked major disruption and fuelled a huge surge in demand last winter.

People feeling unwell are encouraged to visit their nearest pharmacy, NHS 111, GP or minor injuries unit unless it is an emergency.

The East of England Ambulance Service have a plan in place to tackle a busy winter Picture: SONYA DUNCANThe East of England Ambulance Service have a plan in place to tackle a busy winter Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

In that case, patients are urged to dial 999 and visit A&E departments. However, people should not wait until they feel worse before seeking help, bosses warned.

“One of our biggest messages to our communities is to help us to help you, by choosing the right place to get the care you and your families need,” said a spokeswoman for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals.

“The latest figures we have show that demand for healthcare services at both Ipswich and Colchester hospitals has increased.”

More than 30,000 patients passed through A&E at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals in October and November, according to most recent NHS figures.

Ms Hosein said patients are EEAST's top priority Picture: SONYA DUNCANMs Hosein said patients are EEAST's top priority Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

National targets for seeing 95% of patients within four hours were met in October but fell slightly below the benchmark in November with 92.8%.

Meanwhile, over 10,000 patients visited West Suffolk Hospital’s A&E in recent months, and in December bosses logged a 3.1% increase in attendances on the same period in 2017.

The trust has fallen slightly short of the 95% target, with 93.3% seen within four hours in October and 94.6% in November.

“We are coping, but we are seeing a high number of very unwell patients who need genuinely need hospital care,” said chief operating officer Helen Beck.

Ipswich Hospital bosses said demand is up Picture: ARCHANTIpswich Hospital bosses said demand is up Picture: ARCHANT

“People can help the NHS by remembering and acting on health advice.

“If you feel unwell, please don’t wait until you feel worse before seeking help.”

To find the most appropriate service for your health problem, visit the NHS website.

Always dial 999 in an emergency.

West Suffolk Hospital's chief operating officer, Helen Beck Picture: WSFTWest Suffolk Hospital's chief operating officer, Helen Beck Picture: WSFT

More private ambulances on standby to tackle worst of winter

Up to three times as many private ambulances as were used last year are on standby this winter – as frontline staff gear up for an even busier new year.

Around 44 vehicles a day, up from around 15/16 used last winter, are ready to tackle winter pressures at the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST), which last year faced delays during an “incredibly challenging” festive period.

More private ambulances are being used by EEAST this year. File image. Picture: ANTONY KELLYMore private ambulances are being used by EEAST this year. File image. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Private ambulances provide medical cover for NHS trusts, and are often used for transporting patients.

Vehicles must have the same equipment, and the people working in it must be as qualified as the same type of NHS ambulance.

Their use has previously been controversial because of their high cost, however patients last year reported long waits when fewer were used. The trust’s board has set aside £2.6m in extra funds to cover additional resources needed for the 2018/19 winter period.

Interim CEO Dorothy Hosein’s message to people in East Anglia, as a fresh cold snap hits, is that caring for patients is the trust’s number one priority.

There is an even tighter focus on this when pressure is ramped up in winter, she said.

“The [£2.6m] included investing in increasing the number of private ambulances used so we can keep people safe,” Ms Hosein added.

“As you would expect we plan for anticipated peaks in activity throughout the year.

“The Independent Service Review identified the need to use private ambulances while we build our capacity in the long term.

“The net increases focus on the areas where we expect we will require a greater resource.

“We plan the capacity we will need on a regional basis and based on figures from previous years.”

The trust’s winter plan went live on October 1 and will remain in place until March 31.

Staff are being offered flu vaccinations to reduce absences, and are having annual leave allowances cut over busy periods.

A UNISON spokesman said: “EEAST is feeling the pressure, like everyone else.

“In the short term, EEAST has to fill these gaps to make sure it can keep the public safe and avoid working existing staff into the ground.

“All the options for doing this – bank staff, agency staff or private contractors – mean extra costs for the trust but it has to do everything it can to ensure the safety of whoever is working on our ambulance and the public.

They added: “In the long term, the NHS needs proper funding to ensure it can attract enough staff to stop this yearly crisis hitting our hospitals and ambulance services.”

Recent performance data for the trust reveals hospital handover delays logged by EEAST have increased in recent weeks.

Handing over a patient from an ambulance to A&E is expected to take no more than 15 minutes.

But at Ipswich Hospital, the number of ambulance hours lost has increased by 44% from 141 in October to 204 in November, while at Colchester, the figure climbed by 13% from 107 to 121.

West Suffolk Hospital logged 169 hours lost in October, and 197 in November.

EEAST is working closely with clinical commissioning groups to install hospital ambulance officers rolled out at trusts at key times to tackle the issue – and in some areas, this will happen seven days a week.

A spokeswoman for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals said they were working to get medics back on the road as quickly as possible.

West Suffolk Hospital chiefs said A&E nurses and doctors work closely with paramedics to make sure patients are not left waiting.

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