Intensive care crisis warning after death of heart patient

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HOSPITALS are facing an intensive care crisis with demand for beds and staff shortages at a record high, a leading doctor warned yesterday.

His comments came after the death of a patient who was taken 55 miles to the nearest specialist bed; the fourth death of its kind in the North- west in less than a year.

Dr Mick Nielsen, president of the Intensive Care Society, said there was a shortfall of beds everywhere. 'We don't know why this is; if there is an increased demand for the IC (intensive care) beds or because hospital managers are reluctant to open more of these expensive beds or if they are closing them down.'

Intensive care beds cost between pounds 100,000 and pounds 200,000 per year to run, according to Dr Nielsen, who is the consultant in charge of intensive care at Southampton General Hospital. A national audit for 1992-1993 by the Royal College of Anaesthetists found that 56 per cent of 256 intensive care units had to refuse admission in the eight weeks before the audit. It also found many hospitals fell below the recommendation for between one and two intensive care beds per 100 acute beds.

Less than 40 per cent of units have sufficient consultant medical staff to give patients 'skilled professional opinion throughout 24 hours'. Fifteen units had no allocated sessions for consultant cover; effectively they ran their units in their own time in addition to contracted duties. The auditors considered this 'unacceptable'.

The North Western Regional Health Authority last night denied it was putting lives at risk; it said the number of intensive care beds had increased by 41 since April.

Fred Crowther, 77, a heart attack victim, died last Sunday, less than an hour after being admitted to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, 55 miles from his home in Bury, Greater Manchester. Doctors were unable to find an intensive care bed any nearer, and Mr Crowther was believed to have suffered another attack on the way to Lancaster.

In November last year three patients from Manchester and Sale died after being sent to Blackpool, more than 50 miles away, because intensive care beds in local hospitals were full.

A spokesman for the North Western Regional Health Authority said the number of intensive care beds in the area had increased following its creation in April from a merger of two regions.