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Norfolk hospital chief admits the N&N is short of beds

PUBLISHED: 07:00 03 July 2009 | UPDATED: 10:33 06 July 2010

Health chiefs at Norfolk's biggest hospital have admitted for the first time that they need more beds as pressure on wards and units shows no sign of easing.

Health chiefs at Norfolk's biggest hospital have admitted for the first time that they need more beds as pressure on wards and units shows no sign of easing.

It comes as new figures show that the hospital's emergency assessment unit (EAU) is almost always full above capacity. The result is that sick patients are being left on chairs for hours because of sheer numbers of patients coming to hospital.

Yesterday the chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, David Prior, acknowledged that the hospital needs more beds.

The 980-bed hospital was controversially built under a private finance initiative scheme to replace the old Norfolk and Norwich and West Norwich hospitals. Ever since it opened eight years ago, patients, politicians and the EDP have been saying more beds are needed. But Mr Prior has previously said it is Norfolk's community hospitals where extra capacity is needed, for rehabilitation rather than acute care.

Mr Prior said: “The Norfolk health system needs more beds. If we are not going to get more community beds, we need more here…Given that there are delayed discharges, we [the N&N] probably do need more beds.”

But he said that with funding for healthcare being cut back by the government, it would be difficult for the hospital to expand to create more beds.

He said that the increase in patients was ongoing and “not just a spike”. “We are very busy. The demand is growing much faster than predicted. The public expects much earlier access to specialist care.

“At our best we deliver would class healthcare. There are times when we are so busy we have to cancel operations and treat people not to the optimum in our emergency assessment unit, and that is not world-class healthcare.”

The issue was raised yesterday by North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb, who visited the hospital with Norwich North candidate April Pond.

He said: “The Norfolk health system is under an unacceptable strain. I am not criticising the hospital, it is the pressure it is under which seems unsustainable.”

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that bed occupancy rates in the EAU have been above 100pc on average for 14 of the past 15 months - which means the extra patients have to sit on chairs. The unit is not the same as A&E - it is used for patients who need further tests or observations, and may need to stay in hospital overnight. It has 30 beds, four trolleys and a chair area.

N&N chiefs are trying to ease pressure across the hospital by adding an extra 18 beds. The new day admissions unit will open in November and will allow the current day admissions unit, which was set up on a trial basis, to be converted back to a ward.

It is also trying to improve the flow of patients through the hospital, including a new discharge lounge so patients do not have to stay in beds while they are waiting to go home.

And it is still trying to reduce bed-blocking, also known as delayed discharges. Despite efforts to reduce it, there are still 40 to 50 beds a day taken up by patients who no longer need to be in the hospital. Yesterday the figure was 47. The hospital is hoping to reduce this number to 20.

Pressure on the EAU itself is being tackled with extra nursing staff and a new process for managing patients. Ambulance crews have been asked to take people to A&E instead if there is no room for them in the unit.

David Meddick, 62, a licensed conveyancer in Blofield, made a complaint to the N&N and all Norfolk MPs in December after spending time with his wife Patricia, also 62, in the emergency assessment unit. She had been referred there by the out-of-hours doctor service with heart problems. He said although they only waited 4 ½ hours, but that three elderly patients had been sitting there for more than 12 hours. One had been there since 9.30am and was found a bed about midnight.

He said: “It is unbelievable in 2009. If it was 1789 you could believe it. I appreciate the hospital is busy - my daughter actually works there - and lots of staff are doing their best, but that ward on that day was not a happy experience.”

Also upset was the family of Irene Hinchcliffe, 88, another of the patients there, who had to wait for nearly 13 hours before being found a bed after midnight. Mrs Hinchcliffe had a suspected embolism and was also suffering from breast cancer. Her son Ian Kennedy, from Eccles, said at the time it was a “very distressing” experience.

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