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West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds facing 'incredible pressure' as demand on A&E soars and number of Covid-19 patients expected to rise




West Suffolk Hospital has warned of the ‘incredible pressure’ services are facing due to record demand on the emergency department, a lack of beds and a projected increase in Covid-19 patients.

Helen Beck, executive chief operating officer at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, told a trust board meeting on Friday that activity levels were ‘sobering’ and said last month ‘felt as bad as any winter’ she had ever worked through.

In papers presented to the board, she said the trust, which runs the Bury St Edmunds hospital, saw its highest recorded number of emergency department attendances in June at 7,752 as well as a sustained rise in those with mental health issues and in paediatrics.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds
West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

Delays in the emergency department due to a lack of beds were increasing, while the national and regional situation over Covid hospitalisations was a ‘significant cause for concern’.

Helen said when she wrote the paper on Friday, July 23 there were five Covid patients, which doubled over the weekend and increased to 11 before falling to eight last Friday.

NHS East of England has advised the trust to plan for a further rise, with the potential for about 40 Covid-19 patients by the end of this month.

Helen Beck, executive chief operating officer at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust
Helen Beck, executive chief operating officer at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Paying tribute to all clinical and operational colleagues, she said ‘every day at the moment is a really really tough slog’.

A plan has been drawn up to increase Covid capacity if needed but space remained an issue.

“Every day for the last week, we have come into the very difficult position of patients already waiting for beds in the emergency department,” she said.

Every day this week we’ve started on the back foot by up to 12 patients which is a really concerning position but also really tough because it takes you to lunchtime to start the day and start to deal with today’s activity.

The hospital is operating with three wards closed due to ongoing maintenance work to the building, which should be completed by the end of October.

Helen said the pressures were being felt by NHS trusts across the country, with ambulance trusts ‘at the highest levels of escalation’, which was ‘incredibly concerning’ and there were lots of discussions about what can be done, particularly for winter.

“As it stands at the moment I don’t think people locally, regionally or nationally know what those solutions are because the pressure is incredible,” she said.

Last month, the hospital opened a new 32-bed decant ward.

In the report to the board, Helen also highlighted the ways in which the trust is trying to speed up the recovery of services after the pandemic.

Staff will be able to use a mobile operating theatre in Ipswich until the end of October and ‘every effort is being made to use local independent sector capacity’ including day case general surgery at the BMI.

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