Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said he was left shocked by the conditions at Northampton General Hospital (NGH) during a visit to see his ill sister.
Mr Prescott, who was an MP for 40 years, said he witnessed dozens of patients, many elderly, confused and frightened, on trolleys crammed in every direction when he went to visit his sister Viv, aged 70, who is recovering from a heart attack.
The Chronicle & Echo reported earlier this month that NGH was dealing with its busiest-ever winter, with a sharp increase in elderly patients suffering breathing problems.
Writing in the Sunday Mirror, Lord Prescott said he “wasn’t prepared for the shock of seeing all the beds in the corridors.”
He said: “I’ve seen elderly people waiting before but nothing like this. I saw anxiety in people’s faces – the fear and anger that they are waiting and the uncertainty – and I realised the doctors and nurses have to deal with that every day.
“It wasn’t just the A&E centre. They had spilled out into corridors where the nurses were getting on with treating patients.”
Lord Prescott said he was worried about the attitude of one manager at the hospital he encountered.
He said: “A woman said she hoped I didn’t have a camera. She must have thought I was looking for stories. She should have been concerned about patients.
“I was just going to see my dying sister and was grateful for what the hospital is doing. She apologised and offered a complaint form but I told her she didn’t need to do that. I knew they were under pressure.”
Lord Prescott said hospitals struggle to discharge recovering patients because they still need some care and have nowhere else to go.
He said: “My sister was in intensive care. When she began to recover, they wanted to move her one floor down. But they couldn’t. It was blocked with the bed blocking.
“The only way out of this situation is politicians making a bold, long-term move to protect the NHS.”
Northampton General Hospital Chief Executive Dr Sonia Swart said levels of demand had been unprecedented in January.
She said: “We have been dealing with unprecedented levels for demand for our services and we’ve seen increasing numbers of seriously ill, often older, patients. This is combined with delays in discharging patients who are well enough to leave hospital.
“The pressure on our A&E services in the past week was unprecedented. Fortunately we’ve introduced measures over the last year that mean we have improved the quality and safety of our care. Despite the trolleys in corridors and the waiting times for admissions, we continued at all times to provide safe care and our staff responded professionally and competently to the challenges we were faced with.
“I am glad that the excellent care given to Mr Prescott’s sister has been highlighted (in his newspaper column) and I am very proud of the way that our teams and individuals have pulled together to get us through this very busy period. It is evident that at every level, from support staff through to clinical staff and managers, people have gone that extra mile and they have done so day after day.
“I can see everyone getting tired but I can also see great resilience and determination which is a credit to NGH. Also there is no doubt that without all the process improvements we have put in over the last year we would have struggled more with the current situation, and one key factor has been the greatly improved working between teams across the hospital.”