COVENTRY’S University Hospital hit a new low this week with no free beds left and all departments at “maximum capacity”, the Observer can exclusively reveal.
The extreme circumstances – known unofficially as a ‘black alert’ across the NHS – triggered crisis measures on wards, corridors and the accident and emergency department in Coventry.
Such serious incidents – amid the winter and flu outbreak – compromise patient safety, and patients can be diverted to other hospitals.
One source told us senior staff were notified by email of the highest level of alert this week.
Our source claimed the email from management had identified 40 patients were waiting on trolleys.
Some large cupboards on wards allegedly had to be used for some waiting patients with no space left in corridors.
Responding to the claims, a hospital spokesperson told us: “University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, along with a number of West Midlands-based hospitals, has had an exceptionally busy period since Christmas.
“This week has seen an exceptional demand on the emergency department, reaching the highest level yesterday (Tuesday) with maximum capacity reached across departments.
“At one point on Monday, we saw over 90 people cross the doors of our A&E department in just two hours.
“Our healthcare staff are working very hard to help support patients accessing treatment, although it is taking longer to treat them due to the sheer numbers we are seeing.
“We ask people as always at this busy time to call NHS 111 or speak to their doctor before accessing emergency services.
“We have not diverted ambulances to other trusts – that is part of our contingency planning but at this stage we have not used this facility which is available to hospitals.
“We have seen large numbers of patients attending with flu and other respiratory illnesses.”
Asked for further clarification, the UHCW spokesperson told us: “I can confirm that maximum capacity does mean that at that moment in time, all possible hospital beds were occupied. This is an exceptional situation.
“However, I can also confirm this has happened on two occasions in 2018 (including the specific issues this week that you are asking about).”
Official data for UHCW registered with NHS England in recent years – up to February 4 this year – appears to show the hospital has never before registered any day when it experienced a 100 per cent bed occupancy rate.
On February 4 this year, bed occupancy rates at UHCW hit 97.8 per cent. On New Year’s Eve it was 99 per cent. The national maximum target for bed occupancy is 85 per cent.
On February 4, 48 of 148 patients taken to University Hospital’s A&E department by ambulance experienced ‘drop-off’ delays of between 30 minutes and an hour – among the highest in the country.
This exceeded the national target of 15 minutes for patients waiting in ambulances to be handed over to A&E staff.
Last month, NHS hospitals reported a new record low against the four-hour A&E treatment target, with only 77.1 per cent of patients meeting that target rather than the expected 95 per cent.
At UHCW last month, 18.5 per cent of patients were not treated inside the four-hour waiting target.
We reported last month some non-urgent operations had been cancelled at UHCW. That situation continues.
The UHCW spokesperson added: “Staff are doing everything they can to ensure that our patients are safe and get the treatment they need.”
At one point last month, 24 NHS trusts nationally declared being at full capacity.