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Hospitals deny intensive care crisis

PUBLISHED: 08:30 14 September 2009 | UPDATED: 12:05 06 July 2010

Dan Grimmer

Health bosses at hospitals serving the Norwich and Yarmouth areas today insisted they have enough intensive care beds after a report claimed that nationally sick people are being discharged early to free up bed space.

Dan Grimmer

Health bosses at hospitals serving the Norwich and Yarmouth areas today insisted they have enough intensive care beds after a report claimed that nationally sick people are being discharged early to free up bed space.

As the NHS faces the challenge of a predicted second wave of swine flu this autumn, new information uncovered by the Conservatives caused concerns that hospitals are already stretched to breaking point.

Nationally, some hospitals have had to close their intensive care beds due to mounting pressure and data shows 2,000 critically ill patients were discharged early because of a shortage of beds.

Last year at the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, 14 patients were discharged early from ICU (intensive care unit) and a further 222 patients had their discharge from intensive care delayed because there were no suitable beds in other wards.

However, a hospital spokesman said they were doing their best for patients and would only discharge patients when they were ready to leave hospital.

Nick Coveney, director of nursing and patient services, said: “Patients in our intensive care unit are discharged when it is clinically safe to do so. We do not discharge patients early due to a shortage of beds.

“Like our partners across the health system, we have been preparing for a swine flu pandemic for several years and have robust and flexible plans in place to meet any increase in demand. These include escalation plans which will allow us to increase capacity for high dependency patients elsewhere in the hospital, should that be appropriate.”

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital did not supply data for the study, but said it had enough intensive care beds to cope with a rise in patients.

The N&N was heavily criticised at the start of the year when it became so full that patients were cared for in treatment rooms and the emergency assessment unit (EAU) is almost above capacity.

Bosses admitted for the first time they need more beds as pressure on wards show no sign of easing, but they said today the intensive care unit is never full and there was “no point at which there were not enough beds”.

A study published in the journal Anaesthesia in July warned that hospitals across England could face shortages of crucial intensive care beds because of swine flu, especially for children.

The government has said that it can cancel non-emergency operations to increase the overall number of beds available, but the study said that even this would not meet demand. The Department of Health said there were 364 intensive care beds for children in England and 3,637 for adults.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “This is another worrying example of how our hospitals do not have the beds to treat all patients. I hope health bosses will not put patients' lives at risk by discharging them too early, but also make the right decision and free up beds when they are needed.”

t Do you have a health story? Call reporter Sarah Hall on 01603 772426 or email sarah.hall2@archant.co.uk.

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