Ambulance queues continue as 70 patients 'bed blocking' at Royal Cornwall Hospital

  • Watch Charlotte Gay's report.

Issues with bed-blocking, a lack of staff and increased pressure on the NHS have sparked a "major incident" for Cornwall's health services.

People are now being urged to take their loved-ones home as a lack of social care provision means there are 70 beds being used by people who could be discharged at Royal Cornwall Hospital.

Elsewhere, police volunteers have offered their services to drive people to and from hospital as the ambulance service struggles to cope with demand.

And some are being told not to expect face-to-face GP appointments "for a long time" because the area simply "does not have enough GPs".

Mario Dunn, Chief Executive of patient group Healthwatch Cornwall described the situation as a "perfect storm".

  • Mario Dunn speaks to ITV News West Country

He said: "The problem of virus outbreaks, staff shortages, lack of accommodation and of course financial shortfalls means the system is actually creaking on its legs.

"It's no wonder there are people blocking beds in the hospital system because there's nowhere for them to go to. I think a fundamental re-think and reshaping of the health system in Cornwall is necessary."

More than 70 patients so-called "bed blocking"

Royal Cornwall Hospital is calling on family and friends to take their loved-ones home, as more than 70 beds are unavailable for incoming patients.

Ambulances are continuing to queue outside the A&E department at Royal Cornwall Hospital.

Dr Toby Slade told ITV West Country they are working extremely hard to reduce ambulances queuing Credit: ITV News

The emergency department's associate medical director Toby Slade told ITV News West Country being unable to discharge medically well patients is part of the problem.

"What you're seeing very visibly at the front door here are the challenges that exist all the way through the healthcare system.

"We have over 70 patients in the hospital at the moment who are medically fit and able to leave hospital but aren't able to because of social care needs."

Pressure on the ambulance service

South Western Ambulance Service has recently experienced some of its busiest days ever, prompting pleas for people to only dial 999 in a genuine emergency.

Dr Slade has also urged people not to use ambulances as a taxi service.

"If you can make your way to the hospital, or crucially pick up relatives from the hospital, we would ask everybody to do that - even if it's late into the evening.

"Every ambulance journey that's not necessary, that we can save, is an ambulance that can get out to patients more quickly."

Volunteers are now offering to transport people to and from hospital.

Devon and Cornwall Police confirmed they are one of a number of agencies assisting the NHS with the coordination of additional transportation considerations. 

These include private ambulance companies and the Volunteer Devon and Cornwall 4x4 cell - volunteers more regularly used during incidents of severe weather - but not police staff or fleet.

GP services under pressure - with 'burnout' a worry

Patients are also being told not to expect face-to-face GP appointments for a long time - if they ever return.

Dr Penny Atkinson, from Rosedean House Surgery in Liskeard, says this is fuelled by a lack of GPs.

"I would be lying if I said it wasn't a huge challenge at the moment," she said.

"We don't have enough GPs thats the bottom line."

Dr Atkinson says in person appointments are a struggle because there are not enough GPs. Credit: ITV News

As a result she said people may be asked to see a nurse practitioner or pharmacist instead of a GP.

"That's because there's not enough of us and we want to see the people we really need to see," she said.

"I don't think we'll ever go back to the way we were [pre-Covid] if I am honest. It doesn't mean your GP isn't going see you face-to-face if you need it but we will probably want to talk to you first and work out the best route to see you."

A meeting of the NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) governing body heard how the system was under the most sustained pressure it has ever faced.

Dr Rob White, who is an urgent and emergency care lead clinician, said: “Our system is running further hot than I have ever seen in my career. All parts of our system are under massive pressure, the workforce is under massive pressure due to Covid, self-isolation and burnout.

“There is not one person in the healthcare system who does not want to provide good care to the people of Cornwall."

Dr White said people could help the system by “choosing their services well” and going to the right place for help - such as calling 111, visiting a pharmacy or attending a minor injuries unit instead of A&E.

The governing body also discussed how the recruitment and retention of staff was affecting services in Cornwall.

Various members told ITV News West Country is proving difficult to attract people into health and care jobs - and there is also an issue with people leaving the profession.

John Yarnold, fiscal management lay member, said: “We have people leaving, retiring early because they have burnout. We have now got gaps right across the system, particularly in home care packages, we just don’t have the people available.

“It is going to be worse this month as we are in the school holidays and people haven’t taken holiday over the last 18 months, people need that break. We are going to see a reduction in performance levels unfortunately. I am very concerned going forward.”

GP member Dr Judy Duckworth said there had been attempts to provide incentives for people to take up posts, including providing accommodation, but these had not worked.

But she said people are more willing to work in hospitality or other jobs as the pay can be better with less pressure.

She said: “There is no simple fix, it is a really difficult job. If you can sit on a checkout in Lidls and earn the same, that is a no-brainer for some people.”

Additional reporting: Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter