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Hospitals 'gridlocked' by Swine flu PDF Print Email

The Telegraph reports that The NHS is in “gridlock”, with hospitals across the country being forced to declare that they have reached the highest level of

emergency because of flu and other winter viruses. Britain’s most senior accident and emergency doctor said that four weeks of intense pressures had left casualty departments “overwhelmed” with patients. People have been left for hours waiting on trolleys, with even those requiring intensive care enduring long delays. Dozens of NHS hospitals have been forced to cancel surgery and clinics for outpatients. At least 10 major centres issued “black alerts” — the highest emergency warning — meaning they were at breaking point, forcing patients to be sent elsewhere.

Many hospital wards closed due to norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, which put more than 1,200 beds out of use in one week as nurses attempted to

isolate the disease.


On friday night it was disclosed that two boys, aged two and 10 months, had died from swine flu in Northern Ireland. On Thursday, it was disclosed that the number of deaths from flu had almost doubled, with 110 deaths this winter.


John Heyworth, the president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We have seen A&Es absolutely overwhelmed, with people queuing on trolleys and long delays even for those being admitted to intensive care. The hospitals are gridlocked.”

“My frustration is that so much of this is predictable. This did not come out of the blue and yet the planning is inadequate — as though there is a sense of denial about it. The planning this winter has been far less effective than last year.”

Mr Heyworth claimed that casualty units had been hit by a “dramatic surge” in demand not just because of an increase in the number of very sick patients suffering flu complications, but also because people with less serious cases could not see a GP at evenings or weekends and went to A&E instead.

“In many parts of the country out-of-hours services are absolutely inadequate, so what we get is people turning up at A&E simply because they do not know where else to go, or else they delay and only seek help when their condition is serious.”

"It is not good enough. We are failing the public.”


Hospitals were already struggling to cope with an increased number of elderly patients needing surgery following falls during the big freeze when they

were hit by rising influenza admissions and cases of norovirus. Latest figures for England showed that in the week ending last Sunday, 23 casualty units were filled to capacity, forcing ambulances carrying emergency patients to take very sick patients much further away for treatment.

The Government has been criticised by flu experts for failing to introduce a national public advertising campaign about the perils of swine flu until

Jan 1, by which time the outbreak was on course to hit epidemic levels.


Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: “It is really worrying that the NHS is not prepared to deal with these sorts of pressures. The

system is on a knife-edge, and it does not have enough slack in it to cope once we have an outbreak of flu and cases of norovirus.”

She said the charity was “inundated” with calls from elderly people who had their operations cancelled and had not been given a date for the surgery to

go ahead. “What concerns me even more is that this is happening at a time when the health service is gearing up to make major savings, and massive reforms,” said Ms Murphy.


The Department of Health said there was always more pressure on the NHS at this time of year and insisted that the service had been prepared and was coping well. A spokesman said “This year’s flu has resulted in greater than usual numbers of patients requiring critical care,” he said.

“Where necessary, local NHS organisations have increased their critical care capacity, in part by delaying routine operations requiring critical care

back-up. This is a normal operational process which is initiated by NHS organisations at the local level.”