"Unnecessary" A&E visits blamed for black alert at five West hospitals

Yeovil District Hospital Image copyright Yeovil district hospital
Image caption Yeovil District Hospital was put on black alert for almost two weeks last February when it was overwhelmed by demand

Five hospitals across the West of England have declared a "black alert" saying they are being overwhelmed by the level of demand on health services.

The situation is being blamed on too many people coming to Accident and Emergency departments "unnecessarily".

The hospitals are the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Southmead, Weston General and Yeovil District.

Black escalation status means there is severe pressure on services.

"The evidence from hospital A&E Departments is that many people are still continuing to use A&E unnecessarily," said Dr Peter Goyder, of the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group.

Image caption In November CQC inspectors said significant improvements had been made in emergency services at Southmead Hospital

Additional staff have been called in and extra beds are being opened up wherever possible.

However some planned operations have been cancelled.

Dr Goyder urged people who feel unwell to talk to their pharmacist first, contact their GP or ring 111.

Yeovil District Hospital said it was "really short of bed capacity in the hospital".

Simon Sethi, director of urgent care, said: "We've done a lot to prepare but this winter we've seen really high demand, which has been a challenge."

To cope with winter pressures the hospital leased 18 beds from a local nursing home and is due to open a "ready made" 24-bed ward in February.

"We've got this arrangement with a local care home and that's helping us partly - we'd be in a more challenging position if we didn't have that," said Mr Sethi.

Taunton's Musgrove Hospital and Bath's Royal United hospital are all on a "red alert" - one level below black.

What is a black alert?

•The NHS uses a national internal alert system based on the colours green, amber, red and black to rank how busy a local health and social care system is

•Black alert status occurs when a hospital cannot cope with the number of people coming into the accident and emergency department because too few people are being discharged

•It effectively means the hospital does not have enough bed capacity to cope

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