Published: 10:00, 03 January 2018
| Updated: 10:05, 03 January 2018
Hospitals across the county are being told to postpone non-urgent operations as they struggle to cope with a surge in winter demand.
Yesterday, the emergency departments at most Kent hospitals declared the highest level of alert - known as Opel 4 - which is used when pressure continues to escalate, leaving the hospital “unable to deliver comprehensive care”.
Today, Medway hospital confirmed it is full to capacity.
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Health bosses are currently having two meetings a day to make sure a plan is being put into place.
Non-emergency operations are being put off and they have opened the escalation area to provide extra capacity.
Stuart Jeffery, chief operating officer at Medway Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Prior to the winter period, a surge plan was agreed to deal with expected pressures and it is now being implemented.
“The Board is supported by an operational group, members of which are currently meeting twice a day to ensure the detailed actions in the plan are enacted to help relieve some of the immediate pressures on A&E.”
One man told KentOnline's sister paper, the Medway Messenger, he had been waiting in A&E for 23 hours with his partner as no beds were available.
Another said his 96-year-old father with Alzheimer’s had been in A&E on New Year’s Day, waiting for five and a half hours to see a doctor. He described the situation as “dreadful”.
A national board met yesterday to discuss the pressure which is affecting hospitals across the country. They recommended hospitals deferred non-urgent care until after January 31 and temporarily suspend sanctions for breaching mixed sex wards.
James Devine, Deputy Chief Executive at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our hospital is under significant pressure, but our staff are coping and working very hard to make sure that we continue to provide the urgent and emergency care that our community needs over the winter period.
“We currently have a very high number of very ill people attending our Emergency Department who have needed admission to hospital, including high numbers of the frail elderly who often have more complicated health needs.
“This means we have a high level of bed occupancy across the Trust, with some of our patients having faced longer waits in our Emergency Department than we would want them to while we focus on our most unwell patients and create space on our wards.
“We have carefully planned for the additional pressures that we are now facing. This has included participating in the national elective care reduction plan to support emergency flow, where planned surgical procedures are not being scheduled until the end of January to ensure our surgical teams can focus on providing emergency surgical care over winter.
"We also opened our escalation area last week as planned to provide extra capacity for patients who need to be admitted and discharged from the hospital; we also opened four additional permanent beds in our Medical Assessment Unit before Christmas.
“Currently identifying ourselves as being at ‘OPEL 4’ status is part of the standard escalation processes that all NHS organisations use to illustrate the level of pressure that their services are under.
"It indicates to our colleagues across the NHS that we are under substantial pressure and, in our specific case, we are at OPEL 4 primarily because we have very limited additional capacity across the hospital.
“We are very proud of the hard work of all our staff across the hospital, many of whom have taken on additional tasks over this winter period to ensure that our patients receive good care at a very busy time.
"We are also grateful to those in our community who have suffered minor conditions over winter, for utilising other appropriate healthcare provision."
Elsewhere, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust also said it experienced "high levels of demand" over Christmas and New Year.
A spokesman said: "This is a traditionally very busy time of year for the NHS and healthcare providers throughout Kent and Medway are working together to meet peoples’ care needs both in the community and in hospital.”
Dr Peter Maskell, medical director at MTW, continued: “This is a busy time of year for our emergency departments and hospitals as a whole.
“We can all help by using the most appropriate health services for our ailments including our GPs and pharmacies and helping keep A&E for emergencies.”
A spokesman for the East Kent Hospitals trust added: "The Trust is continuing with its planned reduction of non-urgent inpatient operations over the six-week winter period from 20 December 2017.
"This means the Trust scheduled 200 fewer planned operations than usual for this period as part of its preparations for winter.
"We continue to provide day surgery and surgery for patients with cancer, as well as time critical operations."
Meanwhile, the government was accused of deliberately running the NHS into the ground by Labour county councillor Karen Constantine, who sits on the Kent and Medway scrutiny committee.
She said: “The situation within the NHS is wholly predictable and preventable. There have been repeated warnings from the BMA, the Royal Colleges, unions as well as other patient representatives groups.
"This is an entirely predictable situation based on declining NHS funding and political intransigence. This government is driving the NHS into the ground deliberately.”
“Who actually decides what is 'non urgent'. Delaying treatment will cause anxiety and will possibly lead to worsening health for individuals and more pressure on GPs and A&Es.
"Many people will left to suffer in pain. It will lead to backlog to be cleared and complaints. Staff will be under even more pressure."
Medway NHS Foundation Trust has encouraged people on social media to only go to the emergency department if it is an urgent problem.
Patients should call 111 for non-emergency care. For more information visit www.medway.nhs.uk.
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