Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has cancelled all ‘non-urgent’ operations after being swamped by an ‘unprecedented’ and ‘extraordinary’ number of patients.
Health chiefs running Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital said they were admitting around 50 extra people a day compared to the same period in previous years – more than at the height of the 2010 swine flu epidemic.
In an email seen by the Evening Post trust bosses admitted key cancer targets and A&E waiting times were now at risk.
Cancer patients told their surgery had been postponed criticised the move.
And MPs and councillors slammed the trust for being inadequately prepared – claiming that a lack of beds due to ward closures was the root of the problem, not winter pressures.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ chief executive Karen Partington apologised to patients and said the trust had been forced to make the decision after a “sustained increase in both the number and complexity of patients requiring urgent care” over three months.
She said: “We have implemented our winter pressure plan and have also taken a series of additional actions to ensure we can care for this sustained increase of admissions, including significantly increasing the number of beds throughout the hospital.
“We have cancelled meetings, study leave and training and have asked staff to work extra shifts and extend both clinics and theatre sessions to focus all our efforts in treating patients safely and promptly.
“Despite the measures we have taken, the number of patients who require urgent care and treatment remains at an extraordinarily high and unsustainable level.
“We have decided that we have no option but to postpone all non-urgent planned and day case procedures and operations.”
She said the trust had not taken the decision lightly and appreciated it might cause inconvenience and concern, but its priority must be to provide the highest standards of safe and effective care, and ensure it could admit and treat seriously ill patients.
She said: “I would like to apologise to every patient whose care has been postponed. We will be contacting you shortly to reschedule your treatment.”
Chorley’s MP Lindsay Hoyle said he had been contacted by cancer patients who were being ‘failed’ by ‘a trust in crisis’.
He said he believed the decision had been made because of an inability to cope with demand after cutting medical beds.
He said: “There is no excuse for cancer operations being postponed. This is totally unacceptable. It is mismanagement.
“The crisis is there isn’t enough beds but they are going to claim it’s winter pressures.
“When they closed three medical wards we were told they weren’t required. Well the proof is in the pudding.
“I want to see plans for reopening medical wards at Chorley and Preston in order to remedy this problem as soon as possible.”
The close friend of a cancer patient whose surgery was cancelled on Tuesday criticised the move.
The woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “She was expecting to be operated on first thing this morning and only got a call late yesterday afternoon to say it was all off.
“When people have psyched themselves up to go in and there is a cancer element involved it is a very emotive situation.
“She was told there would be no elective surgery until after a meeting next Monday.”
Chorley borough councillor Julia Berry, who sits on the governing council at the hospital, said the problems had been caused by the inability to discharge patients on time, which had led to excessive waiting time for beds.
She said: “There has been an escalation of problems with unusually high complicated admissions of poorly people and they have not had the beds available for them. We have empty medical wards at Chorley that have been shut down.
“One day they had 81 beds taken up by people who were ready to be discharged but didn’t have places ready to go to.
“The trust have been buying bed spaces in nursing homes as a response to this. It’s not a question of meeting targets, it’s making sure they give proper care to people.
“The winter resilience plan is obviously not very resilient.”
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