Pressures on region’s health service ramped up following Norfolk hospital’s A&E plea

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The pressure facing our region's health service has been starkly underlined after one of Norfolk's major hospitals issued a plea for people not to visit its busy A&E department unless 'absolutely necessary'.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn's (QEH) announcement prompted a union warning for the NHS and Government to prepare for the oncoming winter pressures.

It comes in the wake of North Norfolk MP and former care minister Norman Lamb claiming the health service would 'crash within two years'.

All three Norfolk hospital trusts insist they are putting plans in place for winter, when demand increases greatly.

But they will have to make do without extra funding from the Government, which has made it clear there will be no addition to the nation-wide £380m pot for resilience and emergency contingencies during winter.

QEH's appeal yesterday morning came after the hospital saw an unexpected 15pc increase in A&E patients over the weekend.

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Its department saw 197 patients on Saturday and 199 on Sunday.

Chief operating officer Patricia Dunmore said: 'The trust hopes to normalise the flow through the hospital as quickly as is safe to do so.'

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The hospital had worked closely with clinical commissioning groups to 'increase capacity in the community to enable timely discharge and improve patient flow', she added.

Winter plans also include introducing 'escalation beds' which are flexible beds to be used in periods of high demand.

Meanwhile the James Paget University Hospitals Trust, in Gorleston, has seen a rise in A&E patients over summer but is currently hitting waiting-time targets.

The trust has seen a 2pc reduction in A&E attendance this year although the total number of emergency admissions has increased by 1.7pc.

Director of operations Sue Watkinson said the summer-rise was expected, and added the trust has been 'working with external stakeholders to check community capacity and community services to make sure patients can be safely discharged'.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will also be bracing itself for winter, as the trust has failed to hit the 95% four-hour waiting time target since late May.

Figures for July, the latest available, showed 90pc of A&E patients were seen within four hours.

A spokesman for the trus said: 'Demand on the NNUH continues to be very high across a number of key areas.

'The hospital has experienced a sustained increase in attendances since mid-June.

'The Emergency Department is only one area under pressure and the key to providing capacity lays both within the department and on the emergency admission areas and inpatient wards.

'The trust has a number of separate projects underway within a programme structure to provide the capacity to maintain flow.

'The trust does have plans that were initiated following external review of the Hospital to improve performance.

'Preparations for winter involves a close collaboration with health and social care system partners and the planning is already underway led by the System Resilience Group (SRG).'

Mr Lamb will today say in his Liberal Democrat party conference speech that areas like Norfolk should be able to raise its own extra funds to pay for services such as the care of older people, cancer services and mental health.

Karen Webb, eastern region director of the Royal College of Nursing, said the winter pressures could put a strain on workers and urged trusts to ensure wards are safely staffed.

'In previous years the RCN has highlighted that although patient numbers are rising', she said.

'NHS trusts are unable to hire enough nurses because of misguided cuts to training places.

'This continues to be an issue and needs to be addressed.'

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