Hospitals across England Declare ‘black alert’ as NHS Crisis Worsens*
By Ashitha Nagesh
23 hospitals were forced to declare black alerts
More than 20 hospitals in England have been forced to declare a black alert as the NHS crisis deepens.
According to figures obtained by the Guardian, at least 23 hospitals had to issue the warning declaring that they cannot cope with increasingly overwhelming patient numbers.
One hospital trust was under so much pressure on Tuesday that it had to declare a ‘system critical incident’ – even higher than a black alert.
Staff at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust were reportedly forced to make patients wait in ambulances before they could be offloaded into A&E.
As hospitals struggle to manage a surge in the demand for care, they have been forced to take unprecedented actions – such as treating adults in children’s wards, cancelling cancer operations, and even closing a birthing centre.
What is a ‘black alert’?
Last October, in anticipation of a winter crisis, NHS England issued guidance to NHS acute trusts telling them to declare a ‘black alert’ if they become ‘unable to deliver comprehensive care’, and if there is ‘increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised’.
The document outlined a system hospital trusts could use – the operational pressures escalation levels (Opel) scale.
A black alert is around Opel 4 – which means that ‘decisive action must be taken… to recover capacity and ensure patient safety’ as they experience ‘rising system pressure’.
After running out of beds, staff working at Lewisham hospital in south London received an email describing the situation as ‘critical’ and ‘not safe’.
These stark cases showing the extent of the crisis came to light just one day after the Prime Minister dismissed the Red Cross’s warnings about the NHS as ‘overblown’.
Addressing the Commons at PMQs, Theresa May attacked the Red Cross for calling the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’, admonishing them for what she said was an ‘irresponsible and overblown’ statement.
However, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and the British Medical Association have all also issued warnings about the NHS crisis.
And the trusts declaring black alerts could be just the tip of the iceberg.
One doctor at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS trust in Kent told the Guardian it hadn’t declared an internal emergency because trust bosses didn’t want the negative publicity.
But the situation is no less dire. The doctor apparently described how a patient with urinary problems was given a bed bath in the middle of a corridor, with nothing to shield her but a plastic sheet.