Exclusive: Red Cross called in to help deal with Sheffield’s ‘unprecedented’ A&E demand

Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.
Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.
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The Red Cross have been called in to help tackle the ‘unprecedented’ demand on Sheffield’s casualty services – alongside a raft of other emergency measures.

The charity, best known for providing emergency responses in international crises, is providing two ambulances and teams to help transport patients in Sheffield – the first time it has been called upon to help city health services. Red Cross staff carried out their first job in the city on Tuesday, taking a patient home in one of their ambulances from the city’s Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale.

Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.

Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.

Linda Kaye, British Red Cross service manager, said: “Our volunteers were on hand to transport patients home from hospital in Sheffield, ensuring they got home safely and helping to reduce pressure on vital healthcare services.”

Elsewhere, nurses in administrative roles are being asked to come back on to wards, while non-urgent clinical activity may also be postponed until the end of January. Hospital bosses said they are experiencing a ‘huge rise’ in demand for emergency care, with more than 4,000 people visiting the Northern General’s accident and emergency department in December.

In an email to staff, Sir Andrew Cash, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS foundation trust chief executive, said: “The pressure on the emergency care system is unprecedented with A&E frequently reaching 100 people in the department and up to 50 people waiting for admission.

“December saw a 10.5 per cent increase in the number of emergency admissions compared to the previous December – an increase of almost 400 patients. The patients are also older than the usual admissions we have and many have longer lengths of stay due to their dependency and frailty.”

Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Sir Andrew made a personal apology to some patients on Friday night who were forced to wait hours with paramedics in a hospital corridor because no beds were available.

Additional beds have been opened at both the Northern General and Royal Hallamshire Hospital, while Sir Andrew said the Red Cross had offered to provide two ambulances and teams because of the current ‘extraordinary circumstances’.

Volunteers from hospital backroom staff are also being asked to provide clerical support on wards to allow nurses to focus on direct patient care, while senior managers will be on site around the clock to the end of January to provide support to frontline workers.

Sir Andrew said A&E admissions from care homes have ‘increased considerably’ in the past few days, leading hospital bosses to work with those sites with ‘high levels’ of admissions, in a bid to cut the numbers needing visiting casualty.

The Red Cross are providing ambulances in Sheffield due to demand for A&E services

The Red Cross are providing ambulances in Sheffield due to demand for A&E services

Clinical and operations directors are also being asked to ‘carefully consider’ whether there is any non-urgent clinical activity which could be suspended until the end of the month, to allow more staff to be diverted to supporting emergency care patients.

Dr David Throssell, trust medical director, said: “Our staff and partners like the Red Cross are giving a fantastic response to the unusual demand we are experiencing and this is ensuring we are continuing to provide the emergency care required.

“We are very busy, but we haven’t declared a major incident, stopped taking ambulances or restricted patients coming to A&E if they are appropriate urgent care cases.

“The actions we are taking this week are part of the normal winter planning we have in place for these types of surge. We have people who are going to extraordinary lengths to do the best for patients and we are very grateful for their dedication.”