Crisis: Whipps Cross Picture: Nigel Howard
Published: 09 January 2015
Updated: 15:00, 09 January 2015
The A&E crisis deepened today as Britain’s biggest NHS trust revealed that one of its hospitals ran out of beds and had asked ambulances to stay away.
It came as NHS England figures for the first days of 2015 showed more than 2,500 patients waited on trolleys for more than four hours to be admitted to London hospitals — including 33 who waited more than 12 hours.
Patients were stuck in ambulances for more than 30 minutes outside the capital’s A&E units on 706 occasions last week, the figures showed.
Today the Standard can reveal that Barts Health — the country’s biggest group of hospitals — had 36 patients in Whipps Cross’ casualty department awaiting admission to a ward at 6am on Tuesday but nowhere to put them.
The previous evening the hospital, in Leytonstone, was so busy that trust bosses asked for ambulances to be diverted, only to be refused as other hospitals were also full.
In the week ending on Sunday, 463 patients at Barts waited more than four hours to be admitted to a ward.
Today it can also be revealed that the neighbouring Barking, Havering and Redbridge trust was forced to declare an “internal major incident” in the run-up to Christmas.
Bosses at the trust — the only one in London in special measures — were forced to implement the crisis procedure as Queen’s hospital in Romford and King George in Ilford buckled under unprecedented demand on December 16. Last week it had 249 A&E patients waiting more than four hours to be admitted and 21 who waited more than 12 hours.
An internal major incident, which trusts do not have to make public at the time, was also declared by Croydon hospital for a period earlier this week.
Barking, Havering and Redbridge was the worst trust in the capital, and the fourth worst nationally, for A&E delays during the last quarter of 2014.
At Whipps Cross this week, outpatient operations were cancelled to free up space. An extra 99 “escalation” beds introduced across Whipps Cross, the Royal London and Newham to help with demand were “not sufficient”.
At times, patients had to be held in ambulances outside Whipps Cross’ A&E department for more than an hour. Barts said that the London Ambulance Service’s “intelligent conveyancing” system, which takes patients only to hospitals with spare capacity, effectively ground to a halt.
Ambulances were diverted away from Whipps Cross for short periods last Friday and on Sunday to prevent its resuscitation room exceeding capacity. All 36 patients stuck in A&E on Tuesday were eventually found a bed. Other trusts requesting ambulance diversions last week included the Royal Free, Hillingdon, Lewisham and Greenwich and King’s College.
Professor Alistair Chesser, director of emergency care at Barts Health, said the trust owed its staff a “debt of gratitude” for keeping the hospitals safe and that it had only requested ambulance diverts “with reluctance” when needed.
Barts chief executive Peter Morris said there had been “relentless pressure” on its three emergency departments.
The first private company to run an NHS hospital today said it wants to withdraw from the contract. Circle Holdings claimed the contract to run Hinchingbrooke healthcare trust in Cambridgeshire was “no longer sustainable” due to funding cuts and an unprecedented rise in A&E attendances.