West Suffolk Hospital temporarily closes A&E to ambulances amid winter pressures

The A&E department at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: SIMON PARKER

The A&E department at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: SIMON PARKER - Credit: Archant

An A&E department in Suffolk had to close to ambulances for a temporary period because patient safety was at risk, it has been revealed.

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

On January 9, West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds was the only trust in England to divert ambulances from its emergency ward to neighbouring hospitals.

Helen Beck, chief operating officer, said: “It was an exceptionally busy day - at midday there were nearly 50 patients already in our emergency department waiting for care, and we had 183 attendances that day overall.

“Sustained pressure and demand means that we sometimes have to take difficult decisions to ensure patients are safe and get the best possible care. However we don’t take these lightly, and diverts are rare occurrences.”

Ms Beck said the trust also received patients from other hospitals when they implemented diverts.

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She added the hospital’s emergency department had hit NHS targets every day this week, which require 95% of patients to be seen within four hours of arrival.

Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill said: “This time of the year is always busy for our emergency services including West Suffolk Hospital, which I visited just two weeks ago.

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“It is right that local hospitals balance demand to ensure patients receive quality care, and a temporary divert is one way of managing these additional pressures.”

Mrs Churchill praised frontline staff for their “dedication and perseverance” during this challenging period.

The Government provided West Suffolk Hospital with up to £785,000 to help cope with the winter surge.

New figures released today by NHS England show pressure on hospitals across the region is not easing.

During the second week of January, 338 out of 1,594 patients (21%) arriving by ambulance at West Suffolk, Ipswich and Colchester hospitals faced handover delays of at least half an hour. Of those patients, 66 had to wait either in a corridor or in the back of an ambulance for more than an hour.

This appears to be a slight improvement from the first week of 2018, when 390 out of 1,606 (24%) patients were delayed for 30 minutes or longer.

However, the data is skewed as ambulance arrival and delay figures from January 13 at West Suffolk Hospital have not been included.

Bed occupancy rates at the three hospitals from January 8-14 did not fall below 90%.

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