Capacity problems aswinter pressures loom

Hospital staff are bracing themselves for a winter squeeze on beds, with the major trauma centre for central Sussex in the eye of the storm.
Royal Sussex County HospitalRoyal Sussex County Hospital
Royal Sussex County Hospital

The centre is based at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, which provides specialist services on one site, including heart and vascular surgery.

Last month, a squeeze on intensive care beds and the closure of a ward due to the winter vomiting Norovirus meant the national four hour waiting target in A&E was breached.

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Chief Executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), Matthew Kershaw, said: “With Norovirus we lock down, close and clean and only re-open a ward when the situation has been addressed.

“We would like to have more capacity and slack in the system but until our infrastructure changes, we don’t have the flexibility to add more beds.”

Changes under the much anticipated ‘3Ts Project’, involve re-building part of the County Hospital to provide more capacity, but the trust is waiting for Treasury sign-off.

Mr Kershaw said the 3Ts design incorporates a specific “de-camp ward” that could be used in the event of a Norovirus outbreak but he predicted the £420m redevelopmet could be “more than five years away”.

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Although the trust has been given an £830,000 slice of winter pressure money from the Department of Health, Mr Kershaw warned the BSUH Board on Tuesday: “We are coming into the period where we will be tested day in, day out.”

Problems are likely to be contained at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, where a rapid access unit ensures that frail, elderly people can see a multi-disciplinary team of doctors and therapists, by-passing A&E.

The focus remains on the County Hospital where, last winter, some emergency patients waited for more than 12 hours for a bed.

Non-executive director Julie Nerney reminded the Board: “Last year, the bed days lost through Norovirus were horrendous.”

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The trust has expanded its rapid discharge team to free up beds quickly but Norovirus remains one of the biggest threats to hospital capacity across the UK.

n Visitors with Norovirus symptoms should avoid coming to hospital for 48 hours.