Hospital forced to close 20 times

IPSWICH Hospital was forced to shut its doors to all but the most serious emergencies more than 20 times since September, The Evening Star can reveal today.

IPSWICH Hospital was forced to shut its doors to all but the most serious emergencies more than 20 times since September, The Evening Star can reveal today.

Figures published under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the hospital was operating on what it calls 'blue lights only' status on 24 occasions - with some of these periods lasting more than 24 hours.

The status means that only emergency cases can be admitted to the hospital because it is so full and had never before been needed until September last year.

The problem peaked over the winter months when weather conditions combined with the loss of beds due to refurbishment work created a huge pressure on the hospital.

In total, the hospital was on blue-light only for nearly 379 hours between September and April - the equivalent of more than 15 days.

February was the worst affected month with the hospital going on to blue-lights-only six times, the equivalent of more than four days.

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Jan Rowsell, hospital spokeswoman, said: "We did have a very busy time. For us to be on blue-lights only was exceptional.

"Until September we had never before in our history been forced to go on to 'blue-lights' only.

"It is not a decision we took lightly and we tried to stay on it for as short a time as possible on each occasion."

The figures are of particular interest at the moment as the east Suffolk health system battles to overcome huge debts.

As part of their financial recovery plans the PCTs have announced a number of community hospital bed closures which has led to concern among GPs and patients about the ability of Ipswich Hospital to cope with the extra patients.

The pressure on beds meant the hospital's A&E department struggled to meet new government targets introduced in December which stated all patients must be seen within four hours.

The situation got so bad hospital bosses were called to an emergency meeting with the Department of Health but, as the Star revealed on Saturday, the hospital has managed to meet the target continuously for the last two months.

Ms Rowsell said: "We have been working very hard in partnership with the PCTs to try to change the way we care for patients, to provide more care in their own homes and get them out of hospital more quickly.

"We can try to forecast when we will be at our busiest but the very nature of emergency care means we can never predict exactly what the demands are going to be."

Have you been affected by delays at Ipswich Hospital? Or have you been impressed by the treatment you received at A&E? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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