Colchester Hospital closes beds 'to manage pressure' on emergency units

Colchester General Hospital
Image caption Colchester Hospital will focus on discharging patients instead of using a number of emergency beds

A number of emergency beds at an Essex hospital have been permanently closed to allow staff to "manage pressure" better, a hospital boss has said.

Colchester Hospital declared a "major incident" two weeks ago, when emergency units were found to be facing "unprecedented demand".

Normal service resumed on Wednesday, following efforts to discharge patients and postpone elective operations.

The hospital trust chief executive said 32 beds had been shut to ease pressure.

Lucy Moore said the decision would help to balance staffing levels with patient numbers.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) raised "safeguarding concerns" when they visited on 12 November, the day before the "major incident" was declared.

They found staff in A&E and the Emergency Assessment Unit (EAU) struggling to cope with the number of patients.

Image caption Colchester Hospital's emergency units were facing "unprecedented demand" a fortnight ago

Dr Moore said the CQC inspection took place on a day that was "our busiest of the year so far".

"One of the issues two weeks ago is that we'd opened additional beds and it was a challenge to fill our staffing levels appropriately," she told BBC Essex.

She said using extra beds "would not be the way we manage pressure going forward".

Dr Moore said the plan was to discharge medically fit patients to free up capacity, instead of opening additional beds and stretching staff.

She also apologised to the 42 patients whose non-emergency operations were cancelled over the duration of the "major incident".

Image caption The hospital's chief executive said the trust's deficit would take a number of years to clear

"I understand how disruptive and disappointing that would be," she said.

Dr Moore confirmed newspaper reports revealing the hospital's deficit has grown to £21m, saying it was "a consequence of investments we've needed to make into additional staff to make sure we do have the right clinicians in the right place".

"Our best assessment is that we will get back into a sustainable and break-even position over the next five years," she said.

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