Colchester Hospital declares 'major incident'
Colchester Hospital has declared a "major incident" following an inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The hospital trust said the major incident is likely to last a week, and asked patients to visit Accident & Emergency only if they have a "serious or life-threatening condition".
The CQC raised "safeguarding concerns" following an inspection on Wednesday.
The watchdog found staff struggling to cope with "unprecedented demand".
The hospital's interim chief executive Dr Lucy Moore said the focus was on "discharging patients."
'Command and control'
She told the BBC: "By declaring a major incident and running a sort of command and control process, we ask all our staff to prioritise that."
Dr Moore added that by "diverting resources away from things that can wait", staff could "treat as a priority the discharge of patients".
The CQC has confirmed that it raised a "small number of safeguarding concerns" with the hospital.
One involved a patient's note detailing that an invasive procedure had been carried out when that patient could not give their consent.
But the CQC is refusing to give any more details about safeguarding issues, saying that its latest report on the hospital was due and that further inspections at the trust would be carried out.
Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester Sir Bob Russell called the decision to declare a major incident "very worrying".
"We've had a year, eighteen months of problems at Colchester General Hospital, the former chief executive, chairman and numerous members of the board have all gone, there's a new team in there and I'm hoping that they will turn it around.
'Still in trouble'
"There's no criticism here by the way of the front-line medical staff and support staff, the criticism I have is the management historically and I'm just hoping the new management team are going to sort it out, but clearly this is very worrying."
In July the hospital was given an overall rating of "requires improvement".
Wednesday's inspection focussed on the hospital's accident and emergency department and emergency assessment unit.
What is a Major Incident?
The Department of Health says: "For the NHS, a major incident is defined as:
"Any occurrence that presents serious threat to the health of the community, disruption to the service or causes (or is likely to cause) such numbers or types of casualties as to require special arrangements to be implemented by hospitals, ambulance trusts or primary care organisations."
Each individual NHS organisation must plan to handle incidents in which its own facilities "may be overwhelmed".
Examples of such incidents include serious fire, breakdown of utilities, equipment failure, hospital-acquired infections, violent crime and dealing with contaminated individuals.
Peter Blackman, who chairs a patients' association group in Essex, said: "Clearly this shows that Colchester Hospital is still in trouble. It is very concerning for patients that the hospital has still not got to grips with the underlying problems."
The pressures on A&E services meant a requirement for additional resources, he said, and the possibility that people from outside were needed "who have the expertise to sort this out".
News of the hospital's problems came the day after government announced an extra £300m would go towards helping the NHS cope during the winter months by boosting staff numbers and services, particularly at weekends.
But Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, described the extra funding as a "sticking plaster" designed to mask "the fact that a funding gap of £30bn is opening up in the NHS".