“Extreme pressure” forces major incident declaration at Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Anna Carruthers 7 January 2015

A major incident has been declared at Cambridge’s Addenbrookes Hospital as a result of “extreme pressure” in the system.

As a result, non-emergency surgery and procedures have been cancelled and off-duty staff will be called in.

Chief Executive of Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH), Dr Keith McNeil stated: “Since New Year’s Eve CUH has been under extreme pressure and for the past two days we have been in critical internal incident mode.

 “This is due to unprecedented levels of demand on our services with especially high numbers of frail elderly patients, combined with a record level of patients whose medical care is finished and whose discharge is delayed (DTOCs).”

As well as thanking staff for their work in such “challenging circumstances”, Dr McNeil repeated a national plea to patients that they do not attend A&E unless their condition is an emergency or life threatening.

Addenbrooke's A&E department. Credit: Dean Morley

The declaration of a major incident will not come as a surprise to many. Last week prospective patients were warned that hospital access was restricted due to an overwhelming number of flu and stomach bug cases.

NHS England figures from the beginning of October to 28 December indicate that only 75.2 per cent of Addenbrooke’s A&E patients were seen within the expected four hour waiting time. This is far below the national target of 95 per cent.

Addenbrooke’s problems come as the NHS has been the subject of intense political debate. Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband clashed in Prime Minister’s Questions today over the alleged NHS “crisis”. According to the BBC, eight hospitals nationwide have so far declared major incidents, with several others being put on “black alert” because of an apparent high demand for beds. One of the eight hospitals is Peterborough City Hospital, also within Cambridgeshire.

HSPS second-year and Cambridge Universities Labour Club member, Tom Wilson, tweeted today on his own experience of Addenbrooke’s hospital: “Oh incidentally, when I stayed in Addenbrookes in Nov (5 days) I had to sleep in day wards every night as the in-patient wards were full.” He has since clarified to The Cambridge Student that this occurred in October.

Daniel Zeichner, the Cambridge Labour Parliamentary Candidate has reinforced Dr McNeil’s comments on the problem of delayed releases in a press release describing a recent visit he made to Addenbrookes before Christmas: “I saw that staff were doing everything possible, but they were quite clear – they need more capacity in A & E, and they need somewhere to move elderly people who no longer need to be in hospital but can't yet go home. I know that reopening unused capacity at Brookfields Hospital is being considered – the question is why this wasn't done earlier."

Reece Edmonds, Chair of the Student Liberal Democrats, agreed, and pointed out that Cambridge’s MP Julian Huppert had also called for Brookfields Hospital to be used. Speaking to TCS, Edmonds continued: “Addenbrooke's has been struck by a ghastly trifecta: the general squeeze on the health budget resulting from our economic troubles, a particularly cold winter, and the self-inflicted wound of the expensive and controversial new eHospital system.

“In the long term, Clinical Commissioning Groups like those in Cambridge need more money to spend on respite and preventative care in the community, meaning that only those who really need it go to A&E, and that they can be released as soon as possible.”

Green Party Parliamentary Candidate Rupert Read described the major incident declaration as “a symptom of an NHS that is ill. The NHS needs to be restored to full health”. His proposed solutions include a new wealth tax, reversal of part-privatisation and greater emphasis on prevention.
The Cambridge University Conservative Association, when contacted, was unavailable for comment.