‘SEVERAL’ critical incidents have been declared at Royal Bournemouth and Poole hospitals this winter already, leading to operations being cancelled amid severe pressures.

In a report to the board of directors of University Hospitals Dorset, chief executive Siobhan Harrington has provided a written update on the latest challenges from December and the start of this month.

She said throughout December and for the first 12 days of January the trust had been at its highest pressure level for 40 out of the 43 days and escalated to ‘critical incident’ on four occasions.

The situation is still “seriously challenged” she said.

It comes amid strikes by nurses and ambulance workers and follows a critical incident at the end of 2022.

Cancelled operations included some procedures for cancer and cardiology patients.

In her report to directors, who meet on Wednesday, January 25, Ms Harrington said: “The end of one year and the start of the next is often a time of reflection. This last year has been a unique experience of living and working through a pandemic within the NHS.

“This stage of recovery, during the winter, has led to continued pressures across the whole health and care system.

“Over the Christmas and new year period many staff were redeployed or came in to help when due to be at home with their friends and families.

“Thank you to all our incredible staff; I continue to be inspired by their resilience and continued commitment to our patients throughout this period.

“Whilst balancing the pressures we are all under, in December alone we saw 34,253 patients in our outpatients department and an additional 7,352 virtually.

“We carried out 1,137 daycase procedures, supported the birth of 348 babies, and attended 14,074 patients in ED. Given that this covers the Christmas period activity remained high despite the pressures.”

During December, Covid cases remained stable but cases of respiratory virus, flu and Strep A “rapidly rose”.

The report adds: “Pressure on our emergency departments, the acuity of our patients and the limited number of beds we have had available in our hospitals has meant that at several points, the trust has declared a critical incident.”

This has included close working with health and care system across Dorset, including a special focus on discharge and work to avoid admitting people to alleviate pressure on emergency departments.

The trust was forced to cancel some elective operations, while opening up around 100 extra beds.

“This helps us to admit more people who need our care but must be balanced with the need for them be staffed safely by colleagues with the right skills”, the report said.

“Extra care home beds were secured before Christmas to support discharge for appropriate patients whose hospital care has finished; they are almost in full use.

“This has enabled around 60 more patients to be discharged from our hospitals who otherwise would not have been.”

On the issue of cancelled operations, Ms Harrington added: “This is not a measure we take lightly, and the patients' care will be prioritised as a matter of urgency.”