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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 16:14 GMT
Coping with the outbreak: One hospital's story

eastbourne Eastbourne has a large population of pensioners

Since the beginning of the month, Eastbourne District General Hospital has seen a 100% increase in the numbers of patients admitted to its wards.

The culprit, as for so many other accident and emergency hospitals up and down the country, is flu.

Another factor the Eastbourne hospital has to cope with in the flu crisis is the town's large population of elderly people.

I personally do not feel that it is reasonable that staff should be required to work like this year after year.
Alan Randall, chief executive Eastbourne Hospitals NHS Trust
And as the Sydney strain of the virus appears to be a particularly virulent one, the numbers of fatalities are also more than would normally be expected during the winter months.

Chief executive of the Eastbourne Hospitals NHS Trust, Alan Randall, said that 80 patients had died since Christmas, and that the figure would normally be around 35.

The statistic, combined with the effects of the town's crematorium being closed over the holiday period, has meant that emergency morgue facilities - essentially, refrigerated lorry trailers - have had to be put into use.

Mr Randall says that his hospital is coping with the crisis because careful plans were laid to cope with the traditionally busy period.

Elderly people are more susceptible to the virus
He told BBC News Online: "We planned in extra high-dependency beds and we made sure that we were not bringing in waiting list patients during the period that we knew would be very busy.

"We have also worked very closely with GPs and social services to make sure that unnecessary admissions were avoided, and that discharges from beds were speeded up."

The plans have meant that despite the high admission rate, the hospital still has empty beds, some of which it has been able to make available to neighbouring health authorities.

Flu nightmare
He has high praise for his staff, who he says have been "rallying round" and making "the very best" of a bad situation.

He said: "We have not had the high levels of staff illness that other hospitals have experienced.

"But they are still working very hard to cope with the increased workload.

If there was more money then there would not be the same pressure on hospitals that we are seeing now
Alan Randall, chief executive Eastbourne Hospitals NHS Trust
"I personally do not feel, however, that it is reasonable that they should be required to work like this year after year.

"Very simply, there needs to be more money. If there was more money then there would not be the same pressure on hospitals that we are seeing now.

"And if there was more money to pay staff what they deserve, there would not be the problems recruiting.

"I would not say that morale is low now, the staff of this hospital are very dedicated and are rallying around to cope.

"But there is always the danger that later in the year they may begin to think 'why should I go through all that again?'"

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Health
Flu: An NHS nightmare

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