A Sheffield hospital flooded with casualties from the Hillsborough dissater was ‘on the back foot’ from the start because other emergency services headquarters had not informed them a major incident had been declared, the inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans has heard.
The Northern General’s then senior consultant in A&E told the hearing preparations were still being put in place to cope with the disaster on April 15 as patients arrived through the doors in large numbers.
It led to the hospital putting its own emergency plan into action shortly after the first patient arrived at 3.27pm as staff were informed of the unfolding situation at the football ground by ambulance crews.
A switchboard operator at Northern General took a call from the South Yorkshire Police operations room at 3.14pm who was told: “It’s just to inform you there has been an accident at Hillsborough football ground and to put you on standby for casualties. There is quite a few people seriously injured apparently.”
And between 3.13pm and 3.22pm, the jury was told, there were numerous mentions of a ‘major incident’ in communications from South Yorkshire Metropolitan Ambulance Service headquarters and two overspill hospitals, Barnsley and Rotherham, had been informed directly of the development.
But the Northern General was at no point told the same information from SYMAS HQ.
Dr James Wardrope said: “Had the hospital received a formal notification at 3.14pm then the switchboard would have implemented the major incident plan and they would have undertaken the procedures set out in that plan for their area.
“The first priority would be to inform key areas such as the emergency department to call in more staff ... I would see if they had any more information about the nature of the severity of the casualties that we were receiving.
“We would be clearing patients, setting out extra resuscitation points, calling in extra staff and calling in staff from the rest of the hospital.”
He said it would have perhaps meant four or five more doctors could have been available to man the resuscitation area.
Dr Wardrope told the inqests seriously ill patients were coming in ‘large numbers’.
He said: “Ambulances were sometimes bringing two, three or even, in one documented case, four seriously ill patients at once.”
Dr Wardrope told the hearing in Warrington 56 patients were admitted within a hour and 88 casualties came through the doors.
Eleven were either pronounced dead or died in the A&E department.
He told Miss Lambert he did not feel there were sufficient numbers of staff at his disposal initially to cope with the casualty numbers.
He said: “My general observation is that at the start we did not have a chance to prepare the department or the hospital properly.
“We were already receiving seriously injured casualties when the major incident was called by the A&E department and that put us on the back foot.”
Some 71 casualties were also taken to Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital as the Northern General reached capacity, the inquests heard.
Jenni Richards QC, for Yorkshire Ambulance Service, formerly SYMAS, said they were told by South Yorkshire Police the police would notify the Northern General and Hallamshire a major incident was under way and that SYMAS would inform Barnsley and Rotherham hospitals.