An acute NHS trust hit by unprecedented levels of demand has flatly denied claims it did not declare an emergency incident because bosses wanted to avoid negative publicity.
Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) issued a black alert on Wednesday at its Pembury site as huge patient numbers meant it could no longer provide its full range of services and safeguard the lives of patients.
A hospital spokesman also rubbished claims made by an unnamed trust doctor in The Guardian about keeping the notifications low-key.
However it has now emerged MTW declared a black alert at Maidstone Hospital. It lasted one day – Monday January 2.
Yesterday (Thursday) both hospitals had improved operationally, and remained up one stage from the black alert status.
The system monitoring how hospitals are running and what pressures they face is called Operational Pressures Escalation Levels (Opel).
Opel 4, the black alert, meant MTW was forced to take urgent action to recover bed capacity.
This included opening spare beds and cancelling and rescheduling some pre-planned operations to use some of its surgical beds for medical admissions to protect patients. This is reflective of the current position in many hospitals nationwide.
In Kent, Medway Hospital and Darrent Valley Hospital also issued pleas for people to stay away from A&E.
The trust’s two A&E departments collectively saw 4,000 patients between Christmas and the New Year – jointly treating around 400 people a day over the 10 days.
The unprecedented level of attendances – up 5% from last year – continued throughout January. A&E admissions have also risen by 11% this winter compared to last.
A&E waiting time figures released yesterday however show MTW had seen 86% of patients within the required four-hour waiting time. This was the second-best performance from Kent’s hospitals.
A trust spokesman said: “Our teams of dedicated staff have worked incredibly hard over Christmas.
“This is a reflection of the huge demand we’ve seen for A&E care throughout 2016 locally and nationally, and the NHS as a whole is continuing to pull out all the stops to give patients the best possible care and attention.”