NHS crisis – ‘field hospitals’ could be used in Bedfordshire

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There’s a rise in ‘very sick’ people needing urgent care says health boss

Bedfordshire patients could find themselves being treated in ‘field hospitals’ as local NHS services battle to cope with an unprecedented demand for care.

In an email obtained by The Sunday Times, Sarah Whiteman, chief medical director of the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board (BLMK ICB) told colleagues the use of tents was a "real possibility".

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She also asked colleagues if they were prepared to sign temporary contracts to work in emergency departments.

Abstract hospital in blur backgroundAbstract hospital in blur background
Abstract hospital in blur background

But the board said the use of ‘field hospitals’ was not imminent.

The ‘Call To Arms’ email emphasised how busy the acute units were in Bedford and Luton and Dunstable Hospitals.

Emergency services at the region's hospitals have seen a surge in the numbers of people with Covid and flu symptoms. This is on top of the backlog of rising waiting lists for treatment delayed by the pandemic, and a rising number of staff vacancies.

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A spokesperson for BLMK ICB said: “Health services across Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes are experiencing unprecedented demand. In response, we have been working with partners to consider as many options as possible to ensure local people get the care they need. Although one of these options is to create temporary field hospitals, there are no plans to deploy temporary field hospitals imminently.”

The chief medical director has also issued advice to help people get support away from hospitals. She said: “With Group A STREP, flu and Covid-19 infections circulating in our communities, we are seeing an increase in the number of very sick people who need urgent care in our area.

“This means that all organisations from primary care to social care, mental health, community care, hospitals and ambulance services are working hard to meet the growing demand. It also means that people are waiting longer to access health and care services locally.”

She urged people to use NHS 111 online or call 111 to check if they need help and access the right service – such as a consultation with a pharmacist.

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And she added: “Hospital and social care teams are working together to discharge patients when they are ready, so we can continue to treat very sick patients. We are calling on our communities to ask for their support in managing this. If a friend or family member is in hospital and ready to go home, please work with hospital staff to get them home as soon as possible.

“Preventing ill health during the winter is equally as important as caring for those who are sick and so you can help protect yourself and your family by booking your flu, Covid and pneumonia (over 75s only) vaccines and ensuring that children in your care have received all their childhood immunisations.

“More information about vaccines and how to get your jabs is available on the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Health and Care Partnership website.

“Our people are working hard to care for you and your family this winter.”