Dying patients could be discharged to Trinity Hospice as figures reveal extent of pressure on Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Dying patients could be transferred from Blackpool Victoria Hospital to Trinity Hospice in order to free up beds.
Bosses have agreed to temporarily alter the hospice’s admission policy to help the hospital, which is struggling to cope with an ‘unprecedented number of patients’.
It means elderly patients, many of whom will have paid into the NHS for decades, face being treated in their final days by staff at the Bispham-based charity, which has to hold several high-profile fund-raising events every year to remain open.
Medical director Dr Susan Salt said: “We will take some patients who have straightforward end of life care needs in order to free up bed space at the hospital.
“I am aware that this will impact on our workload but it is right that we support our colleagues in the NHS through this challenging time.”
Figures released by NHS England yesterday showed how Vic bosses started the year with just 12 free beds out of a total of 800.
Some 430 had been occupied by patients for more than seven days, while 184 had been there for more than 21.
From Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve, 793 patients arrived at the hospital by ambulance. Some 127 were forced to wait in the back of the vehicles for between 30 and 60 minutes, while 50 had waits of more than an hour.
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: “These figures confirm the continuing fragility and vulnerability at the trust, and the government’s failure to both put more money and support into social care, and also into budgets for the NHS, which they have consistently ignored.”
Trinity, which costs £7 million a year to run and has 20 beds, could take ‘three to four’ patients a week over the coming weeks, The Gazette understands.
It does receive some NHS funding for adult end-of-life care, but relies on donations to fund the majority of its services.
While it usually cares for patients of life-limiting illnesses such as cancer or motor neurone disease, it is now set to offer care to the elderly and frail whose conditions in hospital have deteriorated to the extent they are not expected to survive.
Only when the move is in the patient’s best interests will it happen, a hospice spokeswoman said.
David Owen, chairman of Fylde coast pressure group 38 Degrees, praised Trinity’s offer but said high-occupancy rates at the Victoria Hospital show it needs more beds.
“We pay our taxes and we expect to be cared for in our time of need,” he said. “Unfortunately we are not.
“Three or four beds at the hospice would be useful, but it can’t solve the problem.”
Former Patient and Public Involvement Forum member Vernon Allen, from Freckleton, said he was ‘delighted’ by the hospice’s gesture.
He added: “I’m hoping that now Trinity is willing to take these patients, the government will pay for it. The government should step in to help with the funding.”
Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Paul Maynard, said: “Everyone is aware that there are increasing numbers of patients in our NHS, particularly at this time of year.
“It’s right that the local healthcare community, whether NHS or not, does its best to work together to meet the needs of the community.”
A spokesman for the hospital said there were still 800 adult general beds available, but said some day surgery beds had also been used.
When asked whether patients were also being treated in corridors, he said: “We deploy our nursing staff to all areas where we care for patients.”
A spokesman for the North West Ambulance Service said: “As expected, winter is proving to be challenging but we are working closely with Blackpool Victoria Hospital and doing all that we can to help reduce handover times including putting extra staff into emergency departments such as ambulance liaison officers and duty managers.
“We prioritise our calls to make sure that we get to the most poorly patients first but the extra demand does mean that it can take longer for an ambulance to arrive, particularly to less urgent calls.”
The Gazette revealed yesterday how hospital chiefs had brought in more staff, opened more beds, and cancelled routine operations and appointments because the ‘numbers and sickness levels of patients has exceeded expectations’.
Prime Minister Theresa May apologised, and said she recognised it was ‘difficult’ for somebody who has had their operation postponed and hoped procedures could be rescheduled as soon as possible’.
She spoke after NHS England’s statistics laid bare the pressures experienced by the health service between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, including unprecedented demand on its 111 hotline.
Non-emergency calls to the NHS hotline reached a record high in the week ending December 31, the latest data shows.
Calls to the 111 service shot up 21 per cent on the previous week to 480,400 - the most received in a single week since it was created.
GPs are free to speak out about struggles
Health bosses in Blackpool insisted GPs in the resort are free to speak out about the struggles facing the NHS.
It came after one practitioner accused commissioners of ‘gross interference with freedom of speech’ when practices in the resort were told to refer members of the media to professional communications staff.
Speaking anonymously, the GP said: “This would appear to be gross interference with freedom of speech and prevents important issues being brought to the awareness of the general public,” they said.
A spokesman for Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for organising and paying for residents’ healthcare, said in a statement: “GPs, practice staff and any other health or care professional are welcome to speak to the media as they wish but many often prefer that communications teams, who are experienced in media relations, liaise with journalists on their behalf so that they can concentrate on patient care.”
In an email sent to practices on Wednesday and seen by The Gazette, a bulletin read: “Practices are reminded that if they are approached by the press, radio or other media organisation please direct the journalist to the CCG communications team.”
A similar message was sent to staff working at Blackpool Victoria Hospital the same day, The Gazette understands.
NHS workers were also urged to be ‘mindful of what you post to social media to avoid misleading information being spread more widely’, after the CCG ‘received a number of enquiries from the press in relation to delays and performance within the Emergency Department’.
It comes after a Facebook post by one nurse, which was copied and shared by others, claimed a ‘major incident’ had been declared the Victoria Hospital. This was denied by trust bosses.
Another hospital worker tweeted: “We are seeing unprecedented numbers of patients.”
Some of the media enquiries ‘stem from social media posts by members of staff and patients with the best of intentions to divert people away from A&E and encourage appropriate use of services,” the CCG’s guidance said.
“While you are not in work 24/7, by being an employee of your practice and the NHS you are indirectly representing both by your actions in and outside of work.”