HOSPITAL chiefs have laid bare the shocking human cost of the winter pressures on the NHS at Poole.

In a frank interview after their busiest week of the winter season they revealed:

*They were currently nursing 26 people with flu, some of whom were ‘very poorly’.

* As of yesterday they had to open 34 additional beds on top of the 37 additional beds planned for, taking their total up to 71 additional beds

*Eight more flu victims were admitted to the hospital over the weekend

*They have cancelled 38 operations – 20 per cent of the procedures that would have been carried out at the time - at the hospital since January 2, including three on cancer patients

*Admissions are up ten per cent on normal and patients are so poorly they are staying an average of one day extra

*The flu epidemic has yet to reach its peak

Hospital Chief Executive Debbie Fleming explained that the cancer operations did go ahead within the week for two of the cancer patients and the other re-booked for this week. They were originally cancelled because a critical care bed could not be found on the day. “We would have done everything we could to try and provide a bed but our intensive care facilities were full,” she said.

She also apologised to all patients whose operations had been delayed, explaining that the action was ‘a last resort’ but the reason was because: “This year is different” because so many more A&E patients needed to be admitted.

Speaking about the cancelled operations, she said: “What’s important is that we know it’s a really dreadful experience for each patient and we’re really, really sorry about that. We want to get them rebooked as soon as possible but we only admit patients when it’s safe to do so.”

Explaining the current situation she said: “Normally over the winter I would probably be saying that I’ve come back over the Christmas period and there’s a lot of people who don’t need to be here and we need to get them home. But this year we’ve got so many people who are really, really poorly, we’re largely having very sick patients admitted which is quite different.”

Chief Operating Officer Mark Mould said: “We plan for winter each year in partnership with primary care, local authorities and community partners. We do lots of scenario planning with the winter system but against what we planned for this year we’ve seen a ten per cent increase in the number of people who have been presenting at hospital and admitted.”

The knock-on effect of this, he said, was that all flu-positive patients needed to be isolated to check the spread of infection, putting further pressure on staff.

He said the hospital had planned to use 37 beds to help ease winter pressure but opened up another 34 – and that those patients who were admitted were so ill they were staying an extra day on average.

“While our overall length of stay is about six days, our elderly patients stay longer. If an elderly patient stays ten days, if we have two admissions a day, that very quickly that fills up a ward of 20 beds,” he said.

He and Debbie Fleming praised staff for their efforts and commitment, explaining that although the government had said it could relax the guidelines to allow mixed-sexed wards during the crisis, staff had chosen not to do this. “Where it really mattered, our staff came in - they wanted to hold to our core values and said they didn’t want mixed sex wards,” he said.

Ms Fleming praised staff for taking up the flu vaccine themselves, to protect their families and patients against the virus. “At 84 per cent it’s a far higher rate than in many other hospitals,” she said.

Getting the flu vaccine – which is still widely available for children, the elderly and vulnerable groups – was the single biggest thing the public could do to aid the hospital during this difficult time, she said.

And Mr Mould praised the Poole public for ‘choosing well’- not automatically coming to A&E when they were ill but consulting GPs, pharmacists or calling 111 about flu-type illness.

“Overall attendances on some days are quite low but we’ve admitted a lot of people – strangely, that’s how it should be, and we want the public to carry on choosing well even after the winter pressures recede,” he said.

In the meantime he warned that the flu had not reached its peak in the Poole area. “We’re waiting for the peak - we thought it was likely to be some time next week but we’re still seeing admissions coming through the door.”

Despite all this, however, he pointed out that nine out of ten patients who came to Poole’s A&E during this time were either admitted or discharged within the four-hour target limit. “Given everything, that is a tremendous achievement,” he said.