The ‘humanitarian crisis’ affecting British hospitals is being felt in Lancashire, according to those on the front line.
The term – used by the Red Cross last week – came about after the charity was called into help at 20 hospital trusts struggling to cope with patient numbers.
Although not one of the 20, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, has issued a plea for people to stay away from A&E unless absolutely necessary.
There have been reports of makeshift wards being made in recovery departments and day case units, and patients arriving by ambulance forced to wait in corridors for hours.
Bosses admitted RPH is “extremely busy”, but that it was not unusual for the time of year, and compares to other hospitals.
Elsewhere, on Saturday, the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust issued a last-minute plea on Twitter for any staff who could work the weekend to let bosses know, saying the trust was “under pressure”.
Official data shows that A&E departments across the country are struggling to cope with demand and are failing to meet the target of dealing with patients within four hours of arrival. Doctors say this could lead to unsafe practices as departments are overflowing.
But on Monday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the target to deal with patients within four hours at A&E should not apply to non-urgent cases.
Neil Cosgrove, branch secretary of Unite the union and working North West Ambulance Service paramedic, said the situation in Lancashire hospitals was “horrendous”.
He said: “Ambulance crews are having to queue on a regular basis at Emergency Departments, and any queue is too long.
“Paramedics are frustrated, they’re at breaking point. They can’t get to patients because they’re stuck in corridors.
“Staff are even becoming ill because of it, because they’re standing up all day. They’ve got fatigue, backache, they’re missing meals.”
Teresa Wheeler Osman of Fulwood said she was shocked at the situation at RPH on Saturday, when her partner Alan Hill was taken by hospital having suffered a suspected seizure.
The 47-year-old couldn’t walk, and had back, neck and shoulder pain as well as low blood pressure. Teresa said he was left waiting in a corridor for three-and-a-half hours with a paramedic before being moved to a cubicle.
She said: “We were told by ambulance staff that wards were queuing outside as there were no beds. It’s a disgrace the way my partner was treated and how an A&E runs with long waits in hallways.”
Figures out on Friday showed that NHS 111 had its busiest week ever in the week ending January 1, with 457,000 patients calling the helpline. The number of hospital beds which had to be closed was double that of the previous year owing to levels of norovirus.
Mr Cosgrove claims the problem is a “storm that has been created”.
He said: “Hospitals have closed beds and streamlined, but the population is growing and we’re struggling to match demand.
“Also, there’s money going in, but in my mind it’s not enough and is being badly-managed. It’s always a case of catching up – we’re fire-fighting all the time.”
Tony Dunn, GMB representative for the North West Ambulance Service, said the situation was “soul destroying” for ambulance crews.
He said: “Our controllers are doing their best, but we’re not getting any help from the hospitals. This is expected pressure, so what planning is happening to deal with it?”
He added: “When was the last time you heard about a hospital being opened? They’re not. They just seem to be closing all the time.”
Extra pressure has been felt at RPH since the closure of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital’s A&E department due to a lack of doctors. Currently an Urgent Care Centre is open between 8am and 8pm at Chorley and the A&E department is set to reopen on January 18, although only for 12 hours a day.
Throughout December, A&E departments across the country shut their doors to new patients more than 140 times, a 63 per cent rise on the 88 recorded the previous year.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has said it has not and does not intend to close its doors, but acknowledges pressure on waiting times.
Dr David Wrigley, Lancashire GP and deputy chairman of the Britist Medical Association (BMA) agreed that funding was a key issue in the problem being seen.
He said: “It is a damning indictment on Theresa May, Philip Hammond and Jeremy Hunt that an independent charity – the British Red Cross – has said that the NHS was suffering a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
“We thank them for the work they are doing but it should never have come to this.
“For years doctors and campaigners have been saying the NHS is grossly underfunded and wasting millions on privatising parts of the NHS. Staff are on their knees due to lack of beds and resources and cannot provide the care that patients deserve.
“We call on the government to seek an urgent solution by increasing funding to the NHS back to the EU average and once more we ask that the privatisation of services is reversed.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has disputed the Red Cross’ assessment.
He said: “Well, I don’t accept that description.
“I think there are some A&Es that had very, very serious problems over Christmas and no one would want to minimise what happened.”
Mr Hunt also said NHS hospitals will be able to cancel outpatient appointments as a cold snap hits the UK.