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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 November 2007, 17:39 GMT
More beds blocked at crisis hospital
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
Ambulances are regularly delayed at the Norfolk and Norwich
The number of days lost to bed blocking at the hospital where ambulances were forced to queue outside has risen by more than 50% in the past year.

Government figures show the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) lost 9,164 days for 2006/2007 compared with 5,845 the previous year.

That compares with an average fall of more than 4% across the East in cases of reported bed-blocking - the situation caused where patients in acute hospitals cannot be discharged because of a lack of community hospital beds or home care.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said there was a direct link between the crisis at the NNUH on Wednesday and cuts to cottage hospitals.

However, the Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT), which manages healthcare budgets across most of the county, strongly disputed Mr Lamb's comments.

We will find the Steve McLaren of the hospital service in Norfolk - someone has ultimate responsibility
Labour MP Ian Gibson

Mark Taylor, from the PCT, said: "It is entirely misleading to connect the problems at the NNUH over the past 24 hours with the PCTs review of intermediate care.

"The changes from the review will not start being implemented until next year and the PCT has the same capacity available today in intermediate care as it did prior to the review."

Mr Lamb said the situation at the NNUH was being made worse by cuts made in 2005 when 12 beds were lost as Wells Cottage Hospital was closed.

"It's a really difficult system in Norwich and the situation is worsening," he said.

"It's a dysfunctional system and for their [Norfolk PCT's] strategy to be talking about losing beds and hoping they can be replaced by care at home when there is so much pressure on the acute beds, seems to be a very dangerous proposition."

On Wednesday evening, the NNUH announced it had reached "black alert" - where all contingency plans have been exhausted and the hospital can no longer cope with the pressure on beds.

All the local hospitals have been hamstrung by the costs they have to work within
Conservative MP Christopher Fraser
Hospital officials said up to 70 beds were being taken up by people who should have been transferred to other care institutions but had nowhere to go.

Up to 10 ambulances were forced to queue outside the hospital as staff struggled to free bed space.

Department of Health figures show on average 250 beds a day across the east of England are blocked by those fit to leave hospital but who are unable to be discharged because they still need care.

Government figures show the total number of days lost by bed blocking across the east of England was 91,275 in 2006/2007 compared with 95,250 the previous year - a fall of 4.2 per cent.

Ian Gibson, the Labour MP for Norwich North said: "I worry about the sustainability of the high standards that are often present at the NNUH.

"Whenever there is a minor crisis in the winter and whether the hospital can contain them or not depends on a very serious inquiry into the structures that seem sadly lacking now and again.

'Real concern'

"There seems to be no system in place and if something isn't done this could happen again and again.

"We will find the Steve McLaren of the hospital service in Norfolk - someone has ultimate responsibility.

"Our inquiry, the cross-party group, will unearth that gap in the service."

Christopher Fraser, the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk, said: "Why I have a real concern is that front line services have been put at risk because of the inefficient way I believe the NHS has been operated over the years.

"All the local hospitals have been hamstrung by the costs they have to work within."

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