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Major patient backlog at Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham

Emergency planners in Kent have met over concerns ambulances won't be able to get some patients into hospitals.

Increasing Covid numbers have seen casualty departments stretched to their limits.

Medway Maritime Hospital
Medway Maritime Hospital

But there also concerns Operation Stack may be introduced in the coming days to deal with cross-Channel traffic issues.

This would bring increased congestion on Kent's road network, meaning more problems for beleaguered ambulance staff.

At the forefront of the problems is Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham, which is said to be full.

It has been at the epicentre of the county's Covid emergency for several weeks now.

KentOnline understands the situation there is dire and plans to re-route patients to Darent Valley, Dartford, and Maidstone Hospital are problematic as they too are nearing capacity.

Ambulances have taken hours to drop people off. Stock picture
Ambulances have taken hours to drop people off. Stock picture

A source told us that high-level meetings have taken place between the county's health chiefs, councils and emergency services to plan ahead.

A Medway hospital worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said how at one point yesterday they counted 18 ambulances outside.

This meant an average of six-hour waits to get people in to be seen.

They also confirmed that Covid patients were now commonplace in every ward, including children's wards.

Also a "high number" of teenagers had been admitted with the illness.

Many parts of Kent have been hit hard by the virus
Many parts of Kent have been hit hard by the virus

As of 3pm today, the emergency department was treating 54 patients with 20 of them confirmed or suspected to have Covid.

Keeping the two groups separate is a major challenge to avoid long waits in A&E and ambulances queuing up outside.

Staff are expecting a surge of new patients during the peak hours of 6pm and 9pm.

Across the hospital there are 204 coronavirus patients and a further 40 suspected.

The hospital has around 500 beds in total – meaning half of them are taken by a confirmed or likely Covid patient.

Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford
Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford

Last week we reported how a cancer patient was left terrified after a man with the virus was placed on a ward near him.

Medway Labour's health spokesman Cllr Theresa Murray says a "critical incident" should be declared as the hospital is struggling.

She said staff are trying their "absolute best under trying circumstances" and that asking for help "would not be a failure of leadership".

A critical incident would allow the trust to request wider support from the NHS.

"The hospital is under-resourced and in places not fit for purpose, unlike more modern sites; it's no wonder it is struggling," she said.

Cllr Teresa Murray
Cllr Teresa Murray

"The public need to know what the full story actually is, so they can make sound decisions on how they can behave differently. It's no good people saying 'everything is OK' when it clearly isn't."

She also suggested an overflow facility close by – such as Mid Kent College – was probably needed to deal with the numbers.

An ambulance service spokesman says crews are experiencing difficulties.

He said: "We are continuing to see periods where the time taken to hand over patients at hospital is taking significantly longer than we would like, at a time when we recognise that a number of hospitals in our region are under considerable pressure. We are continuing to work closely with all our hospitals to manage this demand.

“We are working hard to respond to patients as quickly as possible and are monitoring the situation closely. We would like to remind people to only call 999 in the event of a serious or life-threatening emergency and to use 111 for non-emergency calls. We are very proud of our staff and thank them for their ongoing efforts and professionalism.”

The NHS's Wilf Williams
The NHS's Wilf Williams

Wilf Williams, strategic lead for the NHS response to Coronavirus in Kent and Medway, said: “As Covid cases in the community have risen, the number of hospital admissions has increased. As we did in the first wave, hospitals across Kent and Medway are working together to manage demand.

“We are seeing periods where the time taken to hand over patients from ambulances to hospitals is taking significantly longer than it should, but the NHS is working together to manage demand.

“We are urging the public to play their part in stopping the spread of Covid-19 by staying at home as much as possible, social distancing, wearing masks and washing their hands. We would also like to remind people to use NHS 111 to be directed to appropriate advice and services – 999 should only be used in the event of a serious or life-threatening emergency.”

To get all the latest news and guidance about coronavirus, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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