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'HOSPITALS AT BREAKING POINT; Monday, January 13, 2014 .... 656 ambulances forced to queue outside A&E.

Byline: HELEN HUNT @helen_echo

MERSEYSIDE hospitals reached "breaking point" with 650 ambulances forced to queue outside A&E for more than half an hour in just two months.

The ECHO can also reveal scores of routine operations were cancelled and hundreds of beds were closed due to the winter sickness and diarrhoea bug norovirus in December and November.

Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson said hospitals were being driven to "breaking point".

He said: "Our dedicated doctors, nurses, paramedics and ambulance crews are on the front line and they are feeling the brunt of this government's failed policies."

Union leaders said hospitals were being forced to make cuts leaving medics "over-stretched" and under "enormous" stress.

Across Merseyside paramedics had to wait longer than 30 minutes to handover their patient to medical staff in emergency departments 656 times throughout December and November last year.

Among Merseyside's A&E departments, ambulances waited the most outside Whiston Hospital in Knowsley, as many as 225 times between November 4 and January 1. Whiston's busiest periods were in December with peaks in queuing seen during the Christmas bank holiday and weekend.

It was also the only hospital in Merseyside to divert patients arriving by ambulance to other hospitals because its A&E department was so full.

It did this four times in eight weeks to ease pressure on the hospital.

Elsewhere Fazakerley hospital had ambulances waiting longer to handover patients 198 times during the two months, the Royal Liverpool 72 times and Southport and Ormskirk hospitals 161 times.

Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral only had one occasion where an ambulance had to wait longer than 30 minutes.

Fazakerley cancelled the most operations, 57 scheduled surgeries and one urgent operation, followed by St Helens and Knowsley NHS Trust, which runs Whiston hospital. It cancelled routine 37 operations. Alder Hey Children's Hospital cancelled 33 routine operations, Southport and Ormskirk 32, including four urgent operations, Arrowe Park 31, the Royal 21 routine operations and Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital (LHCH) cancelled 10 routine and nine urgent operations.

Some hospitals were also blighted by the winter and sickness bug.

The Walton Centre had to battle to clear the highly contagious infection from its wards.

At the peak of a norovirus outbreak, 25% of beds were unavailable for planned admissions. It was particularly hard hit in early December when it the number of beds closed reached more than 50 in one day.

Steve Flanagan, regional director for Royal College of Nursing North West said: "This is extremely worrying. The winter hasn't really hit and yet NHS Trusts on Merseyside are really feeling the pressure.

"Clearly a combination of 'winter pressures' and an outbreak of the winter sickness bug and norovirus have made a very difficult situation even worse. These new figures are clearly unacceptable and the NHS must act to ease these problems."

BED BLOCKING PROBLEMS FAZAKERLEY hospital suffered the most from bed blocking.

On most days in November and December at least 20 beds were unavailable for new patients to move into.

When the daily total of unavailable beds is added up, figures show, over the two months as many as 1,082 beds were out of action. At the height of pressure at the trust, there were 45 bed blockers in just one day.

The Royal lost the use of 224 beds because of bed blocking over the course of November and December, Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals 237 and St Helens and Knowsley 253.

Bed blocking happens when patients do not need to be in hospital anymore but there is a problem moving patients into their home or care home or into intermediate care.

CAPTION(S):

CONCERNS: Many routine operations were cancelled and beds blocked due to the norovirus in November and December. Below: MP Bill Esterson
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 13, 2014
Words:629
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