PATIENTS are being warned the already overloaded accident and emergency department at Northampton General Hospital will have its capacity further reduced during the winter in order to carry out improvements.
The Chron has previously reported the concerns of NGH doctors about unprecedented numbers of patients arriving at A&E who cannot all be seen by staff within the hospital’s own target timescale, at one point leading to three black alerts in as many weeks.
Earlier this year, a patient waited almost 15 hours after assessment, albeit on NGH’s busiest-ever day, before being dealt with.
And a consultant told an inquest last month that others are regularly “stacked” – left waiting with a paramedic on ambulance trolleys for hours while waiting to be dealt with by overwhelmed doctors and nurses.
With the traditionally busier winter period underway, which hospital chief Dr Gerry McSorley has already admitted staff were apprehensive about, NGH had planned to construct extra cubicles to deal with more patients at once.
But, although that work has already started, some of the current A&E facilities are also being worked on which will temporarily reduce the overall emergency capacity.
Moya McVicar of the Northamptonshire LINk patient watchdog, said: “It’s clear that the only way they can alleviate the ongoing issue is to expand and patients and staff will be better off when that happens. It does seem a strange time to reduce the capacity when we all know how busy winter gets for them. They are under a lot of pressure from all sides, from the ambulance service who are having to queue to hand over patients as well as the Northamptonshire County Council scrutiny committee.
“They want to get the problem solved as soon as possible, which is a good thing, and it looks like they’re keeping their fingers crossed in the meantime that nothing goes wrong.”
Hospital chiefs said work on the new cubicles will go on until early next year, although it is not clear exactly how long the work on existing facilities will overlap, and therefore how long capacity will be decreased.
However, they hope the message will get out to patients that they will not get a rapid service if they are not seriously ill or injured. It hopes to also put in measures to direct unsuitable patients away from A&E.