A&E crisis: Ambulances forced to divert from Norwich hospital to Gorleston as department so stretched

Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department of the Norfolk and Norwich Univer

Ambulances parked up outside the accident and emergency department of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: Steve Adams

Ambulances were forced to divert away from one of the region's biggest hospitals, as huge A&E demand pushed services to the limit again.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) was so busy that ambulances were re-routed to the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston, around 30 miles away, in the early hours of Sunday.

And patients were kept waiting in the N&N car park, as 15 handovers from ambulance to A&E took more than two hours, and 52 took more than 30 minutes.

The problems came despite hospital and East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) bosses making the issue of ambulance handover delays one of their priorities.

Last month ambulance chiefs pledged they would no longer wait any more than 30 minutes outside a hospital, because the delays were impacting their ability to respond to calls.

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But hospitals across the region have reported extremely high demand throughout the festive period, with trusts ringing each other to find space for patients to go.

The ambulance service received more than 3,380 emergency calls on Saturday, December 27 alone – a trend reflected across the country.

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This pressure saw ambulances diverted from the NNUH to the JPUH for an hour from 12.15am on Sunday, following a spike in activity overnight on Saturday.

Dave Fountain, EEAST gold commander over the weekend, said: 'Due to significantly high demand, we have seen handover delays at a number of hospitals across our region over the weekend.

'However we have managed this through partnership working to ensure our patients received an excellent service.

'I'd like to thank all our staff for their hard work this weekend and over the whole festive period.'

He added the service was working closely with hospitals, NHS England local area teams and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to respond to patients.

An NNUH spokesman said: 'The health system in Norfolk on Saturday was under a great deal of pressure and as part of this we had very high numbers in A&E.

'Though we had additional staff in place to deal with a busy weekend, the department was much busier than expected between 9am and 12pm and 4pm and 8pm.

'However all patients were assessed and seen according their clinical priority and received appropriate care.

'Working with the ambulance service, clinical commissioning groups and other health agencies it was agreed that the JPH would receive ambulances that otherwise would have gone to the NNUH, for an hour, to help ease the pressure on the system.'

A spokesman for the JPUH said the hospital was able to take the extra patients, and added: 'We work in partnership with the commissioners and other local providers to ensure safety and meet demand.'

Dr Stephen Dunn, chief executive of the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmund's, said the trust was coping, but pressure was extremely high and had been for the last 48 hours.

The hospital was at capacity, with extra doctors and nurses brought in to help.

He said the trust had been asked to take on extra patients from other busy hospitals in the region, but could not assist as they were at capacity.

He urged people not to go to A&E unless they needed it.

Liz Barker, theatre matron at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, said the trust has been under 'extreme pressure' but had no external black alerts issued.

A spokesman for Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge said ambulances had not been diverted away from the hospital over the weekend, but it remained 'very busy'.

The latest flashpoint follows huge demand on December 1, which saw black alerts declared at five hospitals in the east of England.

Black alert is a hospital's highest escalation level meaning it will look at emergency steps to free up capacity including postponing surgeries and opening day-only units overnight.

Do you have a health story? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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