Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Thursday, 22 November 2007

Q&A: Hospital beds crisis

Many hospitals in the east of England are experiencing a shortage of beds - which led to ambulances in Norwich being forced to wait outside hospital while paramedics treated patients.

But what are the issues behind the crisis?

WHAT CAUSED THE PROBLEM?

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said it received a high volume of patients needing to be admitted but that no single incident had brought on the sudden influx of new patients. The hospital was coping with complaints ranging from injuries caused by falls, heart conditions and sickness and diarrhoea.

However, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said the problem became a crisis because of "bed blocking" - where patients are kept in hospital because they have nowhere else to go.

Often, those affected are elderly people who need more care than younger, healthier people leaving hospital.

WHY CAN'T THEY MOVE THE PATIENTS?

A number of patients were discharged from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to be cared for at three community hospitals or at their home.

However, critics say there is now a shortage of beds in community hospitals, causing more pressure on larger general hospitals.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO EASE THE CRISIS?

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital asked non-urgent patients to seek medical attention from GPs, walk-in centres and pharmacies unless their condition was serious.

It had also been working with other organisations, including the primary care trust and Norfolk social services to speed up the discharging of patients whose care could be managed in community hospitals or at home.

The primary care trust said it was continuing to work with the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to cope with the extreme pressures over the previous 24 hours.

It also said it plans to invest in 30 more community care nurses.

WERE THE PATIENTS TREATED IN AMBULANCES PUT AT RISK?

The East of England Ambulance Trust said seriously ill patients were not treated by paramedics inside ambulances but were prioritised, taken into the hospital and treated by hospital staff.

Only patients with less-severe medical conditions were treated by paramedics as ambulances queued to admit the patients to the hospital.

HOW HAS IT AFFECTED EMERGENCY SERVICES?

At the peak of the alert at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, 10 ambulances were held in queues. This meant ambulances were delayed in being cleared to leave for the next emergency call.

Matthew Ware, from the East of England Ambulance trust, said the target of responding to 75% of life-threatening calls fell by nearly 11% to 64.21%. That compared to the 74.73% average response time throughout October. Mr Ware also said this was likely to have a negative impact on annual league table results on response times.



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