A month-on-month increase on people going through A&E is said to have contributed to pressure which led to two Sussex hospitals to declare a ‘major incident’ last week

Non-urgent operations were can- celled and patients turned away as staff at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, and the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, were told to focus solely on freeing beds until the major incident was lifted on Friday afternoon (February 22).

Ambulance admissions to the hospital were up by 22 per cent on Tuesday, February 19 and on the morning of Wednesday, February 20 the hospital was full with two wards closed to admissions after being infected with norovirus.

Ambulances have also been reported to be queuing outside the Royal Sussex County Hospital, struggling to offload patients in to the emergency department as beds are sparse.

Mick Lister, vice chairman for independent health and social care watchdog LINk, said there are a range of reasons for the extra strain, including a ‘month on month increase’ on people presenting at A&E.

He said: “People go to A&E because it seems to be the easy option.

“They get a result whereas if they go to other out of hours services they don’t always feel they get a satisfactory solution.”

A South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) spokesman said turnaround and handover times at all receiving hospitals are monitored to pick up any pressures in the system.

He added: “This time of year is always particularly busy across the healthcare system, where there can be delays in turnaround time and handover time. SECAmb works hard with NHS colleagues to overcome any issues and we are proud of the dedication and commitment shown by our staff.”

He also said that SECAmb has worked to improve its policy on turnaround and handover times to help tackle delays.

And unions say extremely tight financial climates mean trusts are seeing no increase in their funding but are being asked to deliver more.

Unison’s Ms Fife said: “I have never seen such a time of employers looking at so many ways of trying to save money.”

Ideally, 100 patients would be discharged from the two Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals sites a day.

But in reality over-stretched staff are only managing to send between 60 and 70 people home in a 24-hour period.

A spokesman for the trust said that accident and emergency departments in the south east have witnessed a 4% to 6% increase in admissions year on year for the last five to six years.

He added that between 70% and 80% of people showing up at accident and emergency could have gone to an alternative location.

The hospital also said that the colder weather plus people going to hospital instead of calling an out-of-hours doctor or booking an appointment with a GP were partly to blame for the problems.

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