Blackpool Victoria Hospital patients kept waiting in ambulances for 4 hours as overwhelmed A&E runs out of beds
Ambulances with sick and injured patients had to be diverted from Blackpool Vic to other North West hospitals on Monday when its emergency department dealt with exceptionally high numbers of patients.
Video footage from Monday (December 6) showed around 17 ambulances queued outside the hospital's A&E department, with some patients reportedly waiting up to 4 hours before being admitted for treatment.
You can watch the footage in our video player above.
Natalie Hudson, chief operating officer at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the hospital has been experiencing "huge pressures and demand for services" for some time, a situation mirrored across the NHS in Lancashire and the North West.
But on Monday, unprecedented demand for urgent care at the Vic meant ambulances had to be diverted, with patients having to be taken to other hospitals in the region.
Hospital boss Ms Hudson said "more patients than ever before" are seeking urgent care at the Vic on a daily basis, but she says there are simply not enough beds to go around.
On average, around 80 people each day are on the Vic's wards who don’t medically need to be there, said Ms Hudson, but they cannot be discharged for various reasons, including inadequate social care arrangements.
She said: "In particular, our emergency and urgent treatment departments at Blackpool Victoria have been seeing more patients than ever before and, as an example, we recently had 140 people waiting in an area designed for 32.
"Monday (December 6) was an exceptionally busy day and this resulted in longer waits to be seen than we would like as well as a number of ambulances waiting with patients outside.
"One of our biggest challenges is that we are seeing some very poorly people in A&E who need to be admitted for care but the Trust is struggling to find the number of beds needed with around 80 people each day on our wards that don’t medically need to be here, but cannot be discharged."
But Ms Hudson has provided some reassurance, saying patients waiting in the back of ambulances for extended periods are regularly checked in case their condition deteriorates.
Patients in need of critical care can be prioritised and a dedicated liaison officer works with ambulance crews to help manage the flow of patients and ambulances, she said.
"I want to be clear that there are processes in place to ensure people are safe if they are waiting in the back of an ambulance," said Ms Hudson.
"After they arrive by ambulance at A&E we have escalation procedures for anyone who begins to deteriorate.
"We are working with our partners in the wider health and social care system to make sure people have the support they need to leave hospital, freeing up beds for those who need to come in."
Ms Hudson is now appealing for the public's help to ease pressure on the hospital by only attending A&E when absolutely necessary.
She added: "Local people can help ease this pressure by making sure they are accessing the most appropriate care for their needs such as NHS UK, NHS Choices, NHS 111 and for advice people can go to their community pharmacy, walk in centres and GP surgeries.
"There is also plenty people can do to help themselves – stock up the medicine cabinet and make sure any repeat prescriptions are ordered ahead of Christmas.
"Make sure you take a lateral flow test if you have any symptoms of Covid and get your vaccinations, booster and flu jab.
"For further information keep an eye out on the Trust website and social media channels for information."
North West Ambulance Service said demand was so critical on Monday afternoon that it was forced to put a "formal divert" order in place.
It meant rerouting ambulances to other hospitals, with patients in Blackpool being taken to Royal Preston Hospital and other A&E departments in the region.
A spokesman for North West Ambulance Service added: "The health service as a whole is currently dealing with a high number of patients. During these busy periods, hospital handover waits can become a challenge.
"We work closely with our hospital colleagues across the region to help enable emergency crews to clear quickly and respond to other patients.
"Any patients waiting longer than we would like are monitored with the emergency department clinical team informed of any changes in their condition to prioritise them correctly.
"On Monday (December 6), we had a dedicated liaison officer at the hospital to help manage the flow of patients and ambulances, while from 2.30pm to 4.30pm a formal divert was put in place to help ease the pressure.
"As always, the public can assist by only calling 999 in life-threatening emergencies and considering other options including NHS 111 online, GPs and pharmacies for less urgent issues."
Dr Jim Gardner, medical director at Blackpool Vic, is also asking for "civility and patience" from patients and their families as the hospital battles with "unprecedented demand" on its services.
He said: "I’m asking that everybody is thoughtful about all of the NHS staff who are working so hard to deliver the best care they possibly can at this time.
"I’m asking everybody to be kind to themselves, to their friends and family and to be respectful and thoughtful for our NHS staff.
"As all parts of the service are under pressure maybe we need to be more patient, and maybe even more strategic about how we access health services.
"We know we can do that through online services such as NHS UK, NHS Choices, NHS 111 and for advice community pharmacies, walk-in centres and GP surgeries.
"There really is a lot of choice for all of us to access health services and I’m really just asking everybody to think about being proactive, thinking about medication that might be needed ahead of time, so that everybody gets the best from the services that are on offer."
It is thanks to our loyal readers that we can continue to provide the trusted news, analysis and insight that matters to you.
For unlimited access to our unrivalled local reporting, you can take out a subscription HERE and help support the work of our dedicated team of reporters.