Gloucestershire hospital bosses have been criticised for their secrecy over a recent “black alert” declaration during which patients had to wait 10 hours in an ambulance before being treated, writes Carmelo Garcia.
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust declared a black alert on September 19 which lasted until October 5.
NHS trusts declare such alerts when patients are at serious risk and their safety cannot be guaranteed by the trust nor can normal hospital services be provided.
Mayor Steve Harvey (Lib Dem, Charlton Park) told yesterday’s (October 18) Cheltenham Borough Council meeting that people were waiting for 10 hours to be seen which meant ambulances could not be sent out to other patients.
“It is incumbent on bodies that purport to represent the people of our town and wider to be honest not just with the good bits but also with the bad bits,” he said.
“And I’m referring to the black alert which wasn’t advised to the health overview and scrutiny committee which we have two members on.
“People were waiting in an ambulance for 10 hours to be seen. This also means an ambulance is tied up and not being able to go to a 999 call.”
Safety and communities’ cabinet member Flo Clucas (Lib Dem, Swindon Village) said the local health system is failing.
She said the way the trust is operating is not good enough for the people it seeks to serve.
“We haven’t got enough staff. We are looking potentially at security issue for those staff.
“And when we are looking at this, we having a problem of safety for our patients.
“We know from information given by those working at the trust that the situation is not good and people are leaving even now.
“We have a real problem in relation to this. This is about how the trust is managing its resources and it is ensuring that things are properly done.”
The council passed a motion calling for an emergency meeting with the hospital trust and to ask why the black alert was not made known to the health overview and scrutiny committee.
They also ask why the trust has not been open about the situation with the public and how they expect to retain staff when such intolerable pressure is placed on them.
And they want to know how the trust will retain staff when winter pressures worsen in January and February and what plans it has to help the ambulance service.
They are also concerned about how the trust will recruit more staff with long term workers retiring.
Deborah Lee, trust chief executive, said the declaration was an internal incident designed to ensure focus on their need to prioritise the safe discharge of patients to help free up hospital beds.
She said this allows patients to be handed over to A&E by ambulance crews in a timely way so they are able to access a bed without delay.
“Our experience shows us that when we respond in this way, we can respond to the challenges more effectively and return to ‘usual business’ more quickly,” she said.
“NHS teams across Gloucestershire have experienced significant pressures during a highly challenging period, which has been reflected across the country over the last few weeks.
“At the health and care overview and scrutiny committee meeting on 12 October, we described in detail a broad range of measures designed to relieve pressures in our hospitals and across the system.
“A combination of high demand, availability of beds, the complexity of patients presenting and the continuation of robust infection control measures in response to Covid-19, means that our teams are working under considerable pressure.
“Across the wider system, there has also been a significant increase in ambulance 999 calls, while the flow of patients in and out of our hospitals is also impacted by the wider health and social care system.
“We continue to work closely with our partners to respond to these pressures, both now and in our detailed planning for the coming winter period.
“We are acutely aware of the impact of such pressures on colleagues across our Trust, who have worked longer and harder than ever before over the last two years.
“Their unwavering dedication to providing the best care to our patients must be balanced against their health and wellbeing and the need to consider rest and recuperation.
“In terms of informing the public, we would like to thank the great majority of local people who are accessing services appropriately and responding to the county’s click or call First campaign messages.
“We continue to urge everyone to choose wisely and carefully consider the range of healthcare options available when they require urgent care.”