Via The Guardian: NHS crisis: 20 hospitals declare black alert as patient safety no longer assured. Excerpt:
More than 20 hospitals in England have had to declare a black alert this week after becoming so overcrowded that they could no longer guarantee patient safety and provide their full range of normal services.
Unprecedented numbers of patients requiring care has led to at least 23 hospital trusts declaring they cannot cope since Monday, inquiries by the Guardian have established.
Struggling hospitals have been forced to take highly unusual steps in order to manage a surge in demand for care. They include cancelling cancer operations, treating adults in children’s wards and even closing a birthing centre to help cope with a sudden influx of patients who need to be admitted for treatment.
Hospitals are expected to come under even greater strain over the next few days as unusually cold weather sweeps across much of the country, which doctors fear could prompt a spike in serious breathing problems, among other conditions.
University hospitals of Leicester NHS trust was under so much strain on Tuesday that it declared a “system critical incident” – even higher than a black alert – and had to make patients wait in ambulances before being offloaded into the care of A&E staff.
The Royal Surrey hospital in Guildford, which is used by many of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s constituents, declared black escalation status on Monday because it had become “extremely challenged” by the sheer number of patients whom it needed to find a bed for. At one point that day it had 27 patients who needed a bed but nowhere to put them.
Lewisham hospital in south London became so full on Monday it had run out of beds and in an email to staff it described the situations as “critical” and “not safe”. The hospital had nowhere to put the next patient brought in as an emergency by ambulance, it added.
Under guidance which NHS England issued to NHS acute trusts last October ahead of this winter, hospitals were told to declare what is called a black alert when they have become “unable to deliver comprehensive care [and] there is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised”.