Taxis used by ambulance trust to take patients to A&E as pressure on NHS continues
- Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010
Taxis were sent to collect patients and take them to hospitals by the region's ambulance service, as the NHS across the country came under extreme pressure.
Some 18 patients were taken to hospital by taxi between December 30 and January 2 while nearly 500 ambulances across the east of England waited at least an hour to get patients into A&E departments over the New Year's weekend.
East of England Ambulance Trust (EEAST) said they moved to their highest state of alert on December 31 and using taxis 'enabled [them] to free up crews to attend more serious or life-threatening incidents during very high demand on the service',
Five taxis were used in Norfolk, seven in Suffolk, two in Essex, two in Hertfordshire, one in Cambridgeshire, and one in Bedfordshire.
A spokesman said specialist clinical care was not required for patients using taxis, and the taxis represented a very small proportion of calls taken.
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It comes as the health service locally and nationally is under strain.
Tens of thousands of patients are expected to be affected after hospitals in England were told to delay pre-planned operations and routine outpatient appointments until the end of the month due to severe winter pressures.
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In a drastic step to try to free up hospital staff and beds, NHS England also said the deferral of non-urgent inpatient elective care - such as hip replacements - should be extended until January 31.
Officials have estimated that this could lead to up to 55,000 deferred operations, although cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned, NHS England said.
The move comes after leading medics warned that every emergency department in the country is struggling to cope with winter pressures.
Some hospitals have declared themselves at the most severe pressure level while doctors warned that scores are operating at almost full capacity.
NHS England hopes the measures will free up senior hospital doctors to triage more patients in A&E, be available for phone advice for GPs and ensure that patients in hospitals are reviewed twice each day to help timely discharges.
It also announced that sanctions for mixed sex accommodation breaches should be temporarily lifted.
Under NHS rules men and women are supposed to be treated on different wards and breaches can lead to fines.
But trusts can now breach the rules without being penalised.
The measures from the health body were announced following a meeting of its National Emergency Pressures Panel, chaired by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh.
In the last few days, the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH), in Gorleston, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), in King's Lynn, both took to social media to ask available staff to work.