Bed-blocking blamed as hospitals in Devon and Cornwall on highest level of alert

Ambulances queuing outside the Royal Cornwall Hospital on Wednesday 11 October. Credit: ITV West Country

Two of the west country's hospital trusts are operating at the highest level of alert.

Both the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro and Derriford Hospital in Plymouth are at Opel level four, meaning they are "unable to deliver comprehensive care, with increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised".

On Tuesday night, there were 124 patients in the emergency department at Derriford, with waiting times of more than six hours.

Earlier this week, the Trust declared an internal critical incident due to the sheer number of patients. That has now been stood down.

Earlier that day, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, issued a warning that it was extremely busy.

At the Royal Cornwall Hospital, there were 97 patients waiting for treatment in A&E on Tuesday evening, who were also facing waits of up to six hours.

On Wednesday, there were around 16 ambulances queuing outside.

Dr Mark Jadav, Emergency Department clinical lead at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, told ITV News about the pressure staff are facing.

He said: "Working in the emergency department, we are used to busy times.

"What we are finding at the moment is that the department is full 24 hours a day so there are always too many people actually within the space of the emergency department than we have got cubicles for.

"So, for the staff looking after those people, they're always busy. There aren't any rest times at all. They need to be prepared when they come on shift to work hard all the way through to the end."

Dr Javad is urging patients to consider carefully if they really need emergency care and if not, they may be asked to seek help at their GP surgery or a minor injury unit.

He said: "The vast majority of patients coming to our service do need to come to us but for some people they come here and it's not the right service. For example, people with minor injuries, we would really ask you to consider going to one of the Minor Injury Units.

"If you do come to the emergency department with a minor injury, we may have to ask you to go to one of those other units and it could be a wasted trip for you."

Dr Jadav said the main cause of the current situation is "exit block", commonly known as "bed blocking". It's when a patient is using a bed in hospital that they do not medically need but there is nowhere they can move on to because of a lack of care available.

He continued: "We are only very slightly busier than we were last year at this time. It's not really the numbers coming in that are particularly unusual for us at the moment - it's the numbers that we can't move out into health and social care beds.

"The health and social care system is completely full at the moment and it's that ability to move out of the emergency department when you need a bed that we can't cope with. This is what we call 'exit block'.

"We want to try to move people out into those beds in the health and social care system and that's where the difficulties lie."