ST RICHARD’S Hospital is currently ‘bulging’ with sick people as staff struggle to cope with the ‘unprecedented’ demand.
Patients have been forced to queue outside an overwhelmed accident and emergency department and most planned surgery has been cancelled to try to ease the pressure on services.
The winter period has seen a sharp increase in people visiting A&E at both St Richard’s in Chichester and Worthing Hospital.
The vast majority are elderly people who often require prolonged care.
Both hospitals are currently on ‘black alert’ – the highest possible, meaning bed capacity has been reached – and problems are expected to last several more weeks.
“It’s a level of activity we’ve not seen before,” said Dr George Findlay, medical director at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. “The A&E department is extremely busy at both hospitals, we have patients queueing to get into the right parts of the emergency departments and we’ve actually got more patients than spaces.”
“The staff are trying really hard to provide the best care possible, but just the sheer numbers are making that difficult to do.
“As soon as we clear the emergency department, we have another wave of admissions and the ambulances are continually arriving.”
December saw an eight per cent rise in A&E admissions compared to last year, with a 21 per cent increase in people aged between 55 and 84.
The high volume of elderly and seriously-ill people needing care has increased pressure. The other contributing factor is about 50 patients currently at St Richard’s that have been ready to be discharged for a week, but need additional care from other NHS services which is not in place, Dr Findlay said.
Ambulance services are also overwhelmed; the weekend saw a 28 per cent rise in people dialling 999 compared to last year.
With the resuscitation area at St Richard’s at capacity, some seriously-ill patients are having to be treated in other wards, which Dr Findlay admitted ‘brings risk’.
All planned surgery that is not urgent has been cancelled, with those surgery wards currently staffed to cope with the overspill of sick people.
Figures released on Tuesday showed that 82.5 per cent of patients who came to A&E at St Richards and Worthing between November and December were seen within the four-hour target.
The government target is 95 per cent, though Western were among 127 other major A&E trusts to fall below that figure. Just 13 trusts hit the 95 per cent standard, showing the huge national pressure currently on hospitals.
Dr Findlay said: “We do have patients waiting in our emergency departments longer then we want.
“As a trust we consistently hit 95 per cent, but our performance is a lot less than it has been. That’s a reflection of more patients coming in who are iller and older, and difficulty getting patients out the back end, so you get this spike or bulge in the middle, and the hospitals are bulging right now.”
Dr Findlay said the problems were expected to last several weeks, and urged people not to visit A&E unless they were seriously ill.
But he reassured those who were in real need of hospital care that they would be treated, and praised patients who had surgery cancelled for their understanding.