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Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge ‘ceasing to function as a hospital’ and may send patients to Birmingham or London, warns chief executive

Patients could be sent to hospitals in Birmingham or London if Addenbrooke’s does not tackle its ongoing bed crisis, health chiefs have warned.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital is currently being forced to cancel operations daily and may have to restrict access to care if the situation does not improve.

Chief executive Roland Sinker warned: “You’d have to be asleep to not realise the profound nature of the crisis we’re in.”

Roland Sinker, chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals, pictured before the pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell
Roland Sinker, chief executive of Cambridge University Hospitals, pictured before the pandemic. Picture: Keith Heppell

He said he is “anxious and scared” and that Addenbrooke’s “is ceasing to function as a hospital”.

“I came here in 2015 and we were rated inadequate by the CQC. We had a £90m deficit,” he said. “I have to say, I’m much more anxious and scared now than I was then.”

He told staff that his words were “a call to arms” and that without tackling the challenge faced by the hospital “we’re going to have to think about a plan B”.

Mr Sinker said: “The plan B for us is effectively Cambridge University Hospitals, which has been around for 250 years, thinking about restricting access to care.

“And saying to patients, you know, I’m terribly sorry we can’t look after you. You’re going to have to think about going to another hospital. And those hospitals need to be in London and Birmingham.

“We’re going to the heart of the sun.”

Addenbrooke’s Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke’s Hospital Picture: Keith Heppell

Staff at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, have been urged to discharge patients where they can in order to free up beds.

There are 900-1,000 beds across Cambridge University Hospitals, but 150 were closed on Tuesday due to infection control and the reconfiguration required due to the pandemic. Today (Thursday), there were 100 closed to new admissions, of which 40 were empty.

Infection control is about reducing the risk of Covid and other bugs like norovirus spreading in the hospital. A handful of the beds will also be closed for other things like repairs.

The Cambridge Independent exclusively revealed last week how hundreds of staff were off sick due to Covid or other illness. The hospital confirmed that 408 staff were absent due to sickness on October 28, of which 162 absences were Covid-related.

Ewen Cameron, acting chief operating officer, said: “The loss of capacity at a time when we’re already under very, very significant pressure has had a really significant impact on the organisation.”

Wards have been asked to try to discharge a patient by 10am and a second by midday to help ease the pressure on beds.

“There is no doubt that will be a challenge for people,” he admitted. “But it’s really important that we get some flow going in the organisation to A, keep the place safe, and B, so we can get back to operating on some of the very urgent cases that we've been having to cancel over the last few days.”

Addenbrooke’s A&E. Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke’s A&E. Picture: Keith Heppell

He continued: “The sorts of cases that we’re having to cancel at the moment, because of lack of beds, are the sorts of cases we would never we never imagined cancelling. And we’re doing it day after day at the moment.”

“So, we could barely cope before Covid,” Mr Sinker responded, and added: “150 beds out of 900... this is ceasing to function as a hospital.”

“You’re on the verge of that,” Mr Cameron responded.

Mr Sinker said the trust was “very anxious” in wave one of the pandemic but within 10 days they had a plan to “match the scale of the demand we were going to face on Covid bar the apocalypse”.

He continued: “Then to wave two, which I think is really December, January, February - the beginning of the year - again, we knew what we needed to do and we had the physical capacity. We knew it was going to be very testing. But we had a plan of how we thought things might max out and we also knew that the Covid vaccination programme was likely to start to take it and have an impact.

“If we’re really honest now, we’re looking at 150 beds now, and it’s lovely that a ward is going to open next week, we’re not going to be able to accommodate Covid, emergency, elective, regional, specialist, national care, are we? The maths just doesn’t work.”

Mr Sinker recalled warning attendees that a meeting held on January 4 was a “serious meeting” because of numbers going up over Christmas.

“And so colleagues, this is another serious meeting. And next Tuesday is going to be really serious. This isn’t an aggressive thing, it’s a call to arms. That’s going to go on during the course of this week and into next week and through the following weeks to tackle the challenge... Otherwise, we’re going to have to think about a plan B,” he said.

A new ward opens at Addenbrooke’s Hospital
A new ward opens at Addenbrooke’s Hospital

He added: “It’s lovely that beds are opening - but unless there’s a change in the way that we’re working as an organisation and that’s no criticism to the brilliance of everybody every day, but unless we put away all the things that we currently do and think how can we all lean into this challenge - we’re in real trouble.

“We‘re in real trouble now, but we’re going to be in really serious trouble just as we’ve got 120 beds coming online next summer.”

Mr Cameron added: “I remember coming back on January 4, and seeing the exponential growth and admissions that had occurred over the bank holiday weekend. The thing that’s different today is we’re also needing to try and provide all the other non-Covid care. Back in waves one and two, people stayed away. They didn’t want to come to hospitals. Now they do and they’ve been waiting a long time. So although the numbers you know, 56 doesn’t sound very striking compared to the 130/140 /150 patients we had back in January, the impact of that is much greater.”

Mr Sinker continued: “The situation is as serious as it was in February, March last year, and the beginning of January this calendar year.

“Everybody’s doing an extraordinary job. We’re very grateful. But as an organisation, we’re going to have to rethink how we approach the way that we’re providing care. And what we’re currently doing is terrific but isn’t going to be adequate to get us through to next summer. And we're not alone in this - it’s the same nationally, but we’re a big strong organisation and we have to do all we can to see how we can improve the way we provide care.”

The news comes as Cambridgeshire and Peterborough were designated as an Enhanced Response Area by the government due to high Covid infection rates, with 2,920 cases recorded in the week to October 29, and the highest number of Covid patients in hospital since February.

Today (Thursday), the hospital is treating 61 patients with Covid, of which 10 are in critical care.

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