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Rail crash hospitals swing into action
Ambulances are taking people to nearby hospitals
NHS hospitals close to the Potters Bar train crash site went on an emergency footing within 60 seconds of being informed of the incident.

In line with well-practised procedures, Barnet General Hospital put its major incident plan into operation in preparation for treating the seriously injured.

All non-essential operations were cancelled and extra doctors and nurses were called in. A team of doctors from the hospital was sent to the crash site.

We are on full alert for a major hospital

Mark Purcell, Barnet General Hospital

Chase Farm Hospital was put on standby to receive the walking wounded while the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Welwyn Garden City was also put on standby.

Other hospitals in the region are also on alert in the event that they are needed to help treat casualties or if specialist services are not available at the local centre.

Staff at each hospital are well trained in dealing with casualties from major incidents such as Friday's train crash.

In this case, patients with head injuries were transferred to the Royal Free Hospital in London.

Mark Purcell, spokesman for Barnet General Hospital, said: "We are on full alert for a major hospital. Our sister hospital [Chase Farm] has also been told to be on alert and to take the walking wounded."


The Department of Health issues guidelines to NHS trusts across the country to ensure they are adequately prepared to deal effectively with any major incidents.

Guidelines are also sent out to police, fire and ambulance forces and doctors on how they should coordinate their efforts to make sure the most severely injured get the right medical help as soon as possible.

Key hospitals
Barnet General Hospital, North London
Chase Farm Hospital, North London
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hertfordshire
At least once every two years, hospitals hold simulations, involving actors playing casualties, to make sure their procedures run smoothly.

The emergency services response is mapped out from the moment that the call comes that a major incident has taken place.

When the first emergency services reach the scene - and confirm the scale of the disaster, phone calls are made to nearby hospitals and the ambulance service to put them on standby.

All non-urgent operations are cancelled and the hospital calls staff who are not on duty and asks them to come in.

Accident and emergency departments will be cleared of all but the most seriously ill patients in preparation for accident victims.

On the ground

At the scene of any incident, all of the emergency services work together to ensure those who need it most get quick medical treatment.

The most seriously injured are tagged with red labels so that they are prioritised. They are sent to the nearest hospital.

Those with moderate and non-life threatening injuries are tagged with a different colour label and sent further away for treatment. This ensures the first-line hospital is not overloaded.

Those with less serious injuries, the so-called walking wounded, may be transferred to hospital or more usually treated at the scene.

The NHS is in a strong position to handle major incidents

Department of Health spokeswoman
In the case of the Potters Bar crash, the walking wound were treated at an adjacent supermarket outlet.

Where there are large numbers of casualties, the chief skill is juggling - constantly monitoring the numbers of patients the closest hospitals can take and diverting them elsewhere when necessary.

There have been complaints in the past that doctors rarely get to experience a full disaster simulation.

Research suggested that because of changing shift patterns, it was highly unlikely a doctor would be working when the simulation took place.

However, the situation has improved in recent years, with many hospitals holding simulated major incidents far more frequently than the two-yearly minimum demanded by the Department of Health.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The NHS is in a strong position to handle major incidents. There is detailed guidance on all emergency planning issues, and further specific guidance is issued as required."

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10 May 02 | Health
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