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Thursday, 02 October 2014

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Full extent of crisis at north Cumbria's hospitals revealed

The full extent of the crisis which struck north Cumbria’s hospitals has been revealed with a string of missed targets – and the situation is not improving.

The News & Star revealed at the end of November how non-urgent elective operations – including day cases – were cancelled first at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and later at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

The move came after hospital bosses described an “unprecedented” number of admissions to the A&E department, coupled with outbreaks of the winter vomiting bug.

It took almost a week before all surgery returned to normal but the true impact was yesterday revealed at a board meeting of the North Cumbria University Hospital Trust, which runs both hospitals.

Corinne Siddall, director of operations, confirmed that the trust had missed its Government-set target of seeing all patients in A&E within four hours.

In December the hospitals had also only offered appointments to 84.6 per cent of patients within the 18-week timeframe – compared with a target of 90 per cent.

Mrs Siddall said: “We’ve had significant pressure in the A&E department on both sites. Unfortunately we didn’t achieve the standard for quarter three and we are tracking below the standard for quarter four – and still managing daily pressures within the teams.

“In recent weeks the West Cumberland has also experienced significant operational pressures that are unprecedented in west Cumbria. The situation appears to have stabilised this week but we are keeping a daily check on things.”

This rise in emergency visits, which medical bosses have struggled to find a reason for, was exacerbated by outbreaks of vomiting and diarrhoea.

A separate report to the board revealed that operations were cancelled to “support the flow of emergency admissions as a third of the Cumberland Infirmary bed base was affected with norovirus”.

Chris Platton, acting director of nursing, said: “Throughout December we continued to have – as did the rest of the country – significant increase in norovirus outbreaks.

“This caused increased pressure and additional challenges, coupled in some instances with increases in emergency admissions.”

Mrs Siddall said that the cancellation of non-urgent surgery and day cases meant the trust had also failed to meet two other Government targets: the rescheduling of cancelled operations within 28 days and not hitting the 18-week waiting times.

“We continue to work really hard on the 18-week recovery plan,” she said. “The percentages in December dropped as we expected, and we continued to work with the intensive support teams.

“However, although the drop was consistent [with expectations], the trajectories are falling in a number of specialisms, most particularly in orthopaedics and trauma.

“This is predominantly caused by a high number of cancelled elective operations in November and December.”

Mrs Siddall also told the board that it had failed on a third target, as cancelled operations must be rebooked within 28 days. The trust breached this with 13 patients.

“That was due to the extra pressure on bed availability for the non-elective surgery,” she said. “We do have a system for rebooking people if their operation is cancelled and we don’t normally have an issue with this target.”

This “open and transparent” approach by the trust was highlighted as evidence of their new approach in ensuring it is held accountable.

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