Health chiefs warned that the region’s health and care system is under “extreme pressure” due to high demand, rising staff illnesses and blocked beds.
NHS chiefs Norfolk and Waveney said they were working to create additional capacity, but warned that “many patients with less urgent care needs may have to wait longer than we would like.”
It comes as NHS chiefs across the country report they are under great pressure from extreme levels of demand, with some even considering setting up “field hospitals” to cope with a surge in patients.
Marcus Bailey, winter director for NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “Our health and care system is experiencing extremely high demand levels and emergency department staff are working closely with other health and care colleagues to make sure patients are seen as quickly as possible.
“We are seeing large numbers of very ill people attending emergency departments, calling NHS111, accessing GP services and calling 999; as well as an increase in seasonal illnesses such as the flu, norovirus and Covid-19”.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS National Confederation, said on Monday that some trusts across the country experienced incidents where their oxygen cylinders temporarily ran out.
Shaun Lintern, health editor for the Sunday Times, tweeted a photo on Sunday night which he said showed 36 ambulances queuing outside Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH), “with crews forced to exchange oxygen cylinders between yes when they sold out”. because some patients were trapped in the back of ambulances for many hours.
36 ambulances were stacked outside @NNUH last night with teams forced to swap oxygen cylinders with each other when they ran out because some patients were trapped for many hours in the back of ambulances: pic.twitter.com/WQkizKZs5m
— Shaun Lantern (@ShaunLintern) January 1, 2023
Since then, a spokeswoman for the region’s integrated care system said there are currently no problems with oxygen supplies at Norfolk hospitals.
Taylor also revealed that some 12,000 medically fit patients were stuck in hospitals across the country due to delays in discharging them and creating space for those in need.
Those delays can often be due to waiting for care packages or extra support being given to people at home, as other parts of the social care system in turn come under pressure.
According to the latest available data, running up to and including Christmas Day, Norfolk’s three hospitals had more than 500 people waiting to be discharged each day, for several days in a row in December.
By December 19, county health workers managed to reduce that daily number to less than 400 people.
But getting the numbers down significantly further could take some time.
By Christmas Eve morning, some 332 people were waiting to be released from Norfolk hospitals.
While 232 of that number left hospital that day, new people entering hospitals and undergoing treatment meant that by Christmas Day there were 322 people awaiting discharge, a net reduction of just 10 people in one day.
Rising levels of staff illness, caused in part by the winter surge in respiratory illness, has made it difficult to provide treatment.
But Bailey said his team was working hard to free up bed capacity, including “providing additional support to nursing homes to prevent unnecessary hospital admissions and redeploying staff and using reservists and other staff, including those from the VCSE.” “. [voluntary, care and social enterprise] sector where help is most needed.
He added: “Our first priority must be to provide the most urgent and life-saving care. Patient safety must come first and we must take steps to ensure that those who are most clinically urgent get the help they need as quickly as possible.
“Essential services are open to those who need it most.
“This means that many patients who need less urgent care may have to wait longer than we would like.
“We apologize to these patients and ask for your understanding during this time of extreme pressure.
“People are urged to only go to an emergency department if absolutely necessary.
“The best way to get the medical help you need is to think about NHS 111 first. Visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111 for anything that seems urgent, or if you’re not sure what to do.”