Patients wait for more than six hours at A&E as Norfolk hospitals come under ‘extreme pressure’

PUBLISHED: 13:09 31 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:43 31 December 2017

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department.

Ambulances queuing at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital A&E department. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

Patients faced severe delays at A&E departments over the weekend - with one under-pressure hospital urging off-duty staff to clock in and ease the strain.

People across Norfolk reported waits of up to seven hours to be seen as demand spiked.

Hospitals said a combination of more patients, staff off sick and the Christmas holiday had put them under “extreme pressure”.

It became so severe that on Saturday night Dr Nick Lyons, medical director at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) NHS foundation trust, in King’s Lynn, asked all staff who were on leave but able to work to call the hospital’s switchboard.

He said: “With the Christmas holiday and upcoming bank holiday the trust is under significant pressure.

Ambulances queued up outside the James Paget University Hospital. Picture: SubmittedAmbulances queued up outside the James Paget University Hospital. Picture: Submitted

“We have seen significant numbers of very sick patients and a significant number of staff have been struck down with a sickness bug and are unable to work.

“Maintaining patient safety is our top priority and we are doing everything needed to ensure the hospital remains safe. Our escalation plans are in place and we are working to these.”

One person said an 81-year-old had waited in an ambulance for six-and-a-half hours with a suspected head injury at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) on Saturday.

A senior member of the A&E team there said the wait had been typical of others during the day.

He said: “We are okay at the moment but isolated incidents where people have waited for six and a half hours have occurred.

“We are in line with all the trusts in the area, but we are under extreme pressure.”

It was a similarly busy weekend at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston.

Medical director Nick Oligbo said: “We are very busy with our whole team pulling together and working very hard to provide care for our patients.

“We continue to urge people not to use A&E unless it is a genuine emergency. For minor conditions, GPs, Pharmacies and the NHS 111 service will be able to assist or to signpost to the most appropriate service.”

It was a messaged shared by West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, who, on Sunday, said on Twitter it had been “another really busy day”.

The East of England Ambulance Trust has said it experienced its busiest ever Christmas this year, with 4,200 calls taken on Boxing Day.

Usually, the service averages about 3,000 calls a day, and last year received 3,486.

Praise for staff

While the long delays came under fire, praise was heaped on hard-working nurses and doctors.

One person said their father-in-law, 84, had waited five and a half hours for an ambulance after being found face-down on his kitchen floor.

After they arrived, he then faced another six-hour wait in the ambulance at the N&N.

But they said the ambulance crew were “absolutely brilliant”, had taken good care of their relative and had been as frustrated at the delay as the family had.

And on our Facebook page, Kirsty Sims said she waited in the N&N’s A&E for six hours on Friday night, but commended the staff.

She said: “Seeing first hand what the staff are dealing with, they do an amazing job.”

It was echoed by many others, including one who called them “wonderful people”.

Paula Halliday said her family had face a lengthy wait at A&E on Boxing Day, but said the staff were “fantastic” and “worked extremely hard”.

Hospitals reach bursting point

Hospitals around the country have reached bursting point this winter, doctors have warned.

Average bed occupancy for the winter so far currently stands at 93.8pc nationally, compared to 92.1pc this time last year.

Doctors say that cancelled operations and trolleys in corridors have become regular occurrences.

According to the Mail on Sunday, on December 11 - the busiest night to date - 18 major hospitals in 12 NHS trusts around England did not have a single spare bed.

At the James Paget, capacity reached 100pc for 24 nights in winte.

A spokesperson for the hospital said: “Operationally, it has been very busy, particularly since the beginning of December, with high numbers of patients coming through our emergency department who subsequently need to be admitted.

“These figures will regularly change, from hour to hour in many cases, and can depend on a number of factors.”

‘I’ve never seen anything like it before’

A senior nurse with 30 years experience said the conditions at the NNUH A&E at the weekend were the worst she had encountered after waiting six and a half hours for her 81-year-old mother to be seen.

The nurse, who did not want to be named, was with her mother, who had suffered a fall at around 9.15pm on Friday at her home in Aylsham.

They waited three hours for an ambulance, arriving at the hospital at around 1am.

The nurse said she counted 21 ambulances queuing at A&E, and that paramedics were also helping patients in the corridors of the department.

Her mother was given a scan at 4am, before returning to wait in the ambulance until around 8.30am, where she was shown to a cubicle.

She said: “The paramedics were absolutely brilliant and did an outstanding job, but the delays were appalling. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

“If my mother had a bleed on the brain - and she easily could have done with the medication she is on - she would have been dead by the time she was seen.”

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