Coronavirus in numbers

Covid patients redirected from English to Scottish hospital as NHS grows increasingly overwhelmed

Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle triggers alert saying it is now ‘unable to deliver comprehensive care’

Colin Drury
North of England Correspondent
Wednesday 06 January 2021 12:51

An overwhelmed English hospital is having to redirect patients in need of urgent coronavirus treatment to a Scottish hospital as Covid-19 continues to surge.  

Patients in the border regions who would normal be taken to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle have instead been dispatched to Dumfries, The Independent has learnt.  

The move came after the facility triggered the highest Opel (operational pressures escalation level) alert, essentially an admission of being “unable to deliver comprehensive care”.  

Several patients being treated in the Cumberland’s intensive care wards have also had to be transferred 60 miles across the country to Newcastle in a bid to relieve the growing pressure.  

On Wednesday, NHS bosses refused to disclose how many beds the hospital now had left unoccupied. Such transparency, a spokesperson suggested, risked causing alarm. 

But they said that with more than 180 coronavirus patients being treated at the Cumberland Infirmary and the nearby West Cumberland Hospital, emergency contingency plans – including sending patients to the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary – had been enacted.  

It is said that those patients redirected to Dumfries all live on the north side of the border but would usually have gone to Carlisle for treatment in the first instance.  

A spokesperson for the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Cumberland hospitals, said: “Due to a significant increase in coronavirus in our community we have seen rising admissions requiring hospitalisation over the last week.  

“We have transferred a very small number of patients, as appropriate, to our partner hospitals, and of course the public can help us to help them by observing the hands, face, space guidance and help to reduce transmission of the virus.”

The NHS definition of the conditions required for triggering the highest alert – Opel 4 – states that “there is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised”.

Rod Edgar, a communications manager with Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care, said: “What has been instituted is an approach which sees anyone who lives on the border, but on the Scottish side, being taken to hospital in Dumfries, in Scotland, rather than to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.

"This is a variance to arrangements which would normally allow for some discretion in terms of where patients are taken for treatment in the first instance.”

The North Cumbria trust is among many now facing a crisis situation caused by the pandemic.

Several hospitals in London and across the southeast have had to declare major incidents, cancel operations and transfer patients to centres hundreds of miles away, while paramedics in the capital have warned patients are dying as a result of delays to ambulances.

On Tuesday, the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared a critical incident; and hospital bosses in Birmingham have issued warnings over the pressure on nurses in critical care departments.

*This article was updated on January 9, 2021. An earlier version stated that English patients were being taken to Dumfries for treatment, whereas it is only patients from north of the border who are being redirected from Carlisle to Dumfries.

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