NHS trust declares ‘black alert’ over unacceptably long waits for A&E patients

Hospital staff told there is a lack of beds and trust is under ‘extreme pressure’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Monday 04 October 2021 16:52
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<p>Patients are waiting for “unacceptably“ long times for a bed at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust </p>

Patients are waiting for “unacceptably“ long times for a bed at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust

A major hospital has declared a ‘black alert’ telling staff patients are facing “unacceptably long waits” for a bed in A&E.

It comes as the chief executive of Nottingham University Hospitals Trust today revealed she had resigned from her role due to long term sickness after being infected with Covid-19 earlier this year.

The trust sent out an alert to staff on Monday after 143 patients were waiting to be seen in the emergency department at the Queen’s Medical Centre site.

The problems have been replicated at hospitals across the country in recent months with the head of NHS England acknowledging the health service has experienced its “toughest summer” ever.

Last week photographs showed patients waiting on chairs under blankets outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge because of a lack of capacity in A&E.

Hospital operations have also been cancelled across England with overstretched ambulance trusts forced to call in the military for support.

At a meeting of NHS England’s board on Thursday, chief executive Amanda Pritchard warned “things will get even tougher” as the country heads into winter.

In Nottingham, the pressure from increased numbers of both Covid and non-Covid patients has meant wards used for routine operations, including some cancer surgeries.

The email to staff said the trust had declared OPEL 4, which stands for operational pressures escalation level, and is equivalent to the old ‘black alert’ system where an NHS trust signals it is unable to deliver comprehensive care and patient safety is at risk.

Patients left waiting outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital because there was no space inside the A&E unit

A message to staff by the trust’s head of site operations, and shared with The Independent, said: “We are under extreme pressure this morning, with 143 patients in our emergency department, 32 of those are awaiting beds (some experiencing unacceptably long waits). There is very limited bed capacity on either hospital site. Please could all divisions enact their OPEL 4 actions promptly and help reduce waits for our patients.”

Staff were urged to prioritise patients to be discharged and that they should “think chair not bed” and send patients to the discharge lounge as soon as possible.

Consultants were urged to speak directly to fellow senior doctors to try and tackle delays in patients being reviewed while staff were told to prioritise tests needed before patients could be discharged.

Separately, Tracey Taylor, chief executive of the trust since 2017, emailed staff on Monday to announce she was stepping down.

Last month the Care Quality Commission criticised the trust for widespread bullying and leadership concerns at board level of the trust.

In her message she said: “As you know I have been very unwell with Covid-19 since early July. Progress with my recovery has been extremely slow and I am regrettably still not will enough to return to work. Having discussed this with my doctors it is unlikely that I will be well enough to return to work for some months to come. I know that you are all going through a difficult time at the moment and I am sorry that I am not able to be there to lead the organisation.

“In light of this I have made the very difficult decision to step down from my role as chief executive in order to focus on my recovery and getting well again.”

Earlier this year The Independent revealed the trust was facing multiple clinical negligence claims by families in its maternity unit with families accusing the trust of covering up mistakes.

A review of maternity cases has been announced by former health minister Nadine Dorries.

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