In England, more than twenty hospitals have had to declare black alert this week as they have became so overcrowded that patient safety could not be guaranteed, and they could not provide a full range of services.
According to the Guardian newspaper, twenty-three hospitals have been running under black alert since Monday.
Due to the cold patient numbers have increased dramatically as hospitals struggle to cope with demand. Some have treated adults in children’s wards, closed birthing centres, and cancelled cancer operations.
Over the next few days a massive cold front is said to engulf much of the country which no doubt will drive up patient numbers further.
One hospital the University of hospitals Leicester NHS trust said it was under so much strain, that it declared “system critical incident” a level higher than black alert.
Patients had to wait aboard ambulances until A&E staff could treat them.
A spokesman for the trust said, “The system critical incident, the top level alert, was put in place [on Tuesday] at 8am and we finished it at 1pm [on Wednesday]. This is an alert higher than Opel 4. It’s essentially when this starts to impact part of your business or other businesses.
“For us, [Tuesday’s] situation impacted on the wider health system. We had to hold ambulances at our A&E as they couldn’t offload patients. We were at system critical; that’s the highest point.”
Under NHS England guidance issued to NHS acute trusts last year, hospitals were to declare a black alert when they have become “unable to deliver comprehensive care [and] there is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised”.
Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said, “Emergency departments are overflowing with patients, internal major incidents are being declared around the country and staff in emergency departments are struggling to cope with the immense demand being placed on their services.
“These crowded environments are stretching the clinical workforce to their limits and, more importantly, at times are unsafe for patients.”