UNPRECEDENTED numbers of emergency admissions forced Royal Bournemouth Hospital to put on extra beds and cancel operations this winter.
The hospital opened 40 extra beds, compared with 28 in a typical year, to deal with an influx of patients chiefly suffering from respiratory illnesses and cardiac problems.
And Chief operating officer Helen Lingham has arranged a meeting to address the significant risk that there will be more cancellations of surgical appointments and "a lack of timely care" for emergency admissions if solutions are not found.
The hospital has had to cancel up to 15 operations a week at times this winter - prompting a director at a recent board meeting to say the hospital is facing " its worst crisis in a decade".
Chief executive Tony Spotswood has denied that is the case and blames the problem on a rise in emergency admissions.
He says the hospital is unable to quickly discharge patients for community-based care, which causes a bed blockage. But he denied that bed closures over the past two years had contributed to the problem.
“Over the last six months we have seen higher numbers of emergency patients than the hospital has ever seen before,” he said.
“I think this is because the elderly population is growing, more frail elderly people are living at home, rather than in care, and patients are finding it more difficult to access GPs.
“The problem is compounded by difficulties we have discharging patients who are medically fit, but who may require complex care or placement in a residential care home.”
“One of the reasons we can't is due to restrictions placed on nursing in residential care homes, so patients with some conditions won't be admitted.
“Also some need complex packages of community care, and there just isn't enough support available.
“The PCT and community trust are working to expand these resources.”
The hospital currently has 605 inpatient beds available, down from 638 in January last year and 643 in January 2011.
Mr Spotswood said they were cut as there was a year-on-year reduction in the length of time patients were spending in hospital, due to general improvements in care and organisation.
He added that the reduction in beds had not resulted in any redundancies among clinical staff, and denied that closing them was a mistake, saying it would be wrong to increase capacity for patients who don't require hospital treatment.
Mr Spotswood said: “The key issue is we have patients looked after by GPs here who would be better cared for in community beds.
“There is a physical limit to the amount of beds a hospital can have, and there are very good clinical reasons why patients should spend as little time here as possible.”
He emphasised that the changes are in response to current pressures and have nothing to do with the Poole Hospital merger plans, and do not involve closing any beds.
Chief operating officer Helen Lingham said the hospital was making “hourly and daily decisions” on transferring resources between wards.
She said one “exceptional measure” was converting the maternity ward to provide space for patients with women's health issues.
Mr Spotswood said: “We have two completely separate areas adjacent to each other, one clinical area for women who have had surgery for gynaecological conditions or treatment for breast cancer, the other supports patients receiving pre-natal or post-natal care.”
Councillor Blair Crawford, cabinet member for adult social care at Bournemouth council, said: “Our teams work with the hospital and I think it works well, but at times like now when everyone is under pressure it is more difficult.
“It takes time for a patient to be properly assessed, and we don’t want a situation where patients are rushed out of the hospital and given a quick care package to free up beds.
“They may just end up back in there as emergency cases.”
Cllr Crawford said the council was working to speed up the transfer of patients into care where it could."