Hospitals ask for patients to be cared for at home amid 'extreme demand'

NNUH medical director Erika Denton asks people to help patients at home

NNUH medical director, Professor Erika Denton, has urged families and relatives of patients to help out at home in order to ease the pressure on emergency departments - Credit: NNUH/Archant

Norfolk hospitals have issued a dramatic plea for families to collect patients and care for them at home, amid extreme pressures on emergency departments.

All three of the county's hospitals have moved to their highest level of alert, as staff struggle to admit new patients.

The crisis means ambulances are having to queue up to hand over patients to hospital staff, with delays of up to four hours reported.

Professor Erika Denton, medical director at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), told BBC Radio Norfolk, that families could help ease the pressures by taking relatives home.

Erika Denton, Medical Director at NNUH. Photo: NNUH

Erika Denton, Medical Director at NNUH. Photo: NNUH - Credit: NNUH

"Our hospital and neighbouring hospitals are experiencing extremely high levels of emergency demand following the bank holiday period," she said.

"We are now on the highest state of alert and are working to do everything possible to discharge everyone we can who no longer needs a hospital bed.

"If you have a loved one or neighbour who is in hospital and you could possibly help by looking after them a little bit to get them home, please can you do so.

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"That could mean helping with some meals, having a relative to stay with you a few nights, this would make a significant difference to us."

Prof Denton said patients were waiting as long as four hours in ambulances outside the hospital due to the lack of beds.

She added: "Our biggest worry in acute hospitals is waiting to offload patients from ambulances. 

"I think we have some patients waiting up to four hours to be transferred into the hospital."

A meeting of the hospital's board of directors heard from chief executive  Sam Higginson that it had 124 patients who were ready to leave the hospital but could not be discharged - known as "patients without criteria to reside".

He said: "The hospital remains under significant pressure and in a critical incident. The increased pressures rising from the bank holiday are putting increasing strain on our emergency department and on our wards."

The high level of demand is being experienced at hospitals across Norfolk, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn and the James Paget in Gorleston.

A Norfolk and Waveney CCG spokesperson said: "People can make a difference by helping loved ones who are well enough to leave hospital to recover at home or in another suitable care setting, meaning that hospital beds are freed up for patients needing emergency care.

"No-one wants to stay in hospital longer than they need to so if you are a family member or friend and feel you can help, please speak with the nurse in charge."

The CCG has said patients can also help by choosing the "right service for their health and care needs" and only visiting emergency departments or calling 999 in the case of a "genuine life-threatening emergency".

Healthwatch fears

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk - Credit: Richard Jarmy Photography

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk has urged people not to avoid getting urgent medical treatment if they need it.

He said: "NHS staff are working incredibly hard to ensure patients across the county get the care they need, but critical incident status should not be in place a second longer than it needs to be.

"We worry a declaration like this can put off some people who desperately need care as they do not want to put the NHS under any further pressure.

"Anyone experiencing a life-threatening emergency should get the care they need, and we would echo the views of Norfolk’s health bosses to seek help in a variety of alternative ways including pharmacies or the 111 service, and only attend A and E if it is an emergency.

"There is no doubt the people of Norfolk are very community-focused and those who can help family members, loved ones and neighbours will do so. Equally, situations like the current critical incident show there is a need for additional support and care for those leaving hospital.

"Looking ahead, we would be keen to see the new system which brings together health and social care ensuring there is an effective recovery safety net in Norfolk for those leaving hospital."