Hospitals struggle with demand

LORNA MARSH Fears were raised last night over how the region's main hospitals would cope without community beds, as it emerged they were placed on the highest state of alert during their struggle with the post-festive demand.

LORNA MARSH

Fears were raised last night over how the region's main hospitals would cope without community beds, as it emerged they were placed on the highest state of alert during their struggle with the post-festive demand.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital was put on black alert last week, with patient numbers doubling in the emergency unit.

It is now on red alert - the second highest status possible - while the James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, and West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds, remain on black.

N&N spokesman Andrew Stronach said it was a routine annual occurrence as social and community services, including cottage hospitals and GP surgeries, operated on a skeleton scale over the festive period.

The problem stems in part from patients having to be kept in hospital longer over the festive lull because community beds and outreach services are not as readily available. And when surgeries and hospitals return to normal, there is a higher than usual rate of referrals and routine procedures to catch up.

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Mr Stronach said the hospital had asked community units to ensure they were ready after Christmas to take transfers and the problem was likely to continue into this week.

But Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP, questioned how the NHS would cope without the 120 out of 227 community hospital beds under threat.

Mr Lamb, a supporter of the EDP Save Our Beds campaign, said: "The impression is that the N&N are running on an incredibly tight basis. It begs the question: when you have a crisis that puts extra pressure on the system for whatever reason, what happens if you halve the number of beds?"