STAFF at Norfolk’s biggest hospital , the Norfolk and Norwich, were told to make the ‘least unsafe decision’ last week, when the hospital had no spare beds, a full accident and emergency department and 35 patients lying on trolleys waiting to be admitted.
Workers at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital received the message last Tuesday in what management later described as a ‘hastily-worded email’.
In its message it said: ‘We would like you to know that the trust will support you in making difficult decisions that may be the least unsafe decision, and we would appreciate your cooperation over the coming days with this.’
The circular added: ‘We are facing our most challenging situation with our trust today’ – unable to find a bed for 35 patients who doctors decided needed to be admitted as emergencies.
Dr Julia Patterson, a spokeswoman for EveryDoctor, which campaigns to improve doctors’ working conditions, said the trust’s message means ‘optimal care is unavailable now for some NHS patients because “the least unsafe option” is the best we can offer.
‘When hospitals are so full that there are no intensive care beds, no hospital beds at all, and essential operations are being cancelled because there’s simply no one to do the surgery, then every option carries undue risk.’
Dr Sue Crossland, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘We would always support our members to make safe decisions, despite the pressures we face from all sides.
‘We acknowledge the dire situation that we all find ourselves in, but we must always make safe decisions and give our patients the best care possible.’
The number of A&E waits in excess of four hours has more than doubled in the Norfok and Norwich trust in the past year
Growing numbers of hospitals are coming under such strain that they are having to declare ‘black alerts’, meaning they need help to cope with their caseload.
Last week 10 A&Es were so busy that they temporarily diverted ambulances to another hospital nearby.
The NHS has recorded its worst-ever performance against key waiting times for A&E care, cancer treatment and planned operations in each of the last two months.
Pressure has become so great that thousands of patients a week are waiting with ambulance crews for at least half an hour outside A&E because they are too busy to accept them.
Last week 11,785 patients waited 30-60 minutes to get into an A&E and another 4,469 faced a delay of at least an hour, figures from NHS England show.
Hospitals were 95% full last week, 10% higher than the 85% occupancy which doctors say is the safe level.
Cuts mean the NHS is entering this winter with the fewest hospital beds available ever.