Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich
Greenwich Council’s adult social care staff assisted with the “black alert” at Queen Elizabeth Hospital

Health bosses have moved to reassure patients after both Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Lewisham Hospital reached full capacity this week, triggering a “black alert”.

Black alerts are issued when a hospital is “unable to deliver comprehensive emergency care”, according to the NHS’s official definition. It usually means the ambulance service is asked to take patients to neighbouring hospitals, while other agencies such as local councils are asked to help free up beds.

Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, which runs the two hospitals, told 853 that it did not turn patients away, and that both hospitals are now no longer at Opel Level 4 – the official name for a black alert.

Under NHS England’s Pressure Escalation Levels Framework, the Opel system has four levels of alert – Level 1 (green) means the hospital is operating normally and within its resources, while Level 4 is the most serious.

While hospitals struggling during winter has become a common occurrence in recent years, a photo posted to social media by a nurse and trade union activist of Queen Elizabeth Hospital declaring a black alert in the first week of November caused widespread concern.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital (Woolwich) – Full Capacity
Kings College Hospital – Close to Full Capacity

When will the Government stop the spin and give us the resources we need@mtpennycook @CliveEfford pic.twitter.com/wbnrj7Xed1

— LondonNurse2016 (@LondonNurse2015) November 6, 2019

853 has been told that Greenwich Council’s adult social care stuff helped Queen Elizabeth Hospital during its three-day alert by identifying patients who could be moved out of the hospital early.

Lewisham took part in a similar exercise. Tom Brown, Lewisham’s council officer in charge of community services, told a meeting of councillors on Wednesday: “They have a green, amber and red rating and then there’s black when they’re not quite sure what to do after red.

“They’ve been on black this week because they’ve had more demand in the emergency department that’s available in the hospital so inevitably they want us to take people out quicker.”

A Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust spokesperson told 853: “We are not turning patients away. When we declare Level 4 Black on our Emergency Department Full Capacity Protocol, it means that our emergency department (ED) is experiencing very high demand. Once declared, this triggers an internal process, the aim of which is to support a safe staff-to-patient ratio in ED.

“The full capacity protocol has four levels: black, red, amber and green. Thanks to the hard work of our staff, Queen Elizabeth Hospital is currently on amber, and University Hospital Lewisham is currently on green, our lowest level of escalation.”

Additional reporting by Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter for Lewisham

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