Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital was only designed for 100,000 admissions a year

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has praised NHS and council staff who helped Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich when it reached full capacity last week, triggering the “worst day in the history of the hospital”.

853 reported last week that the Queen Elizabeth, together with its sister hospital in Lewisham, declared a “black alert”, meaning that the hospitals were “unable to deliver comprehensive emergency care”, according to the NHS’s official definition.

Thorpe told a meeting of Greenwich Council’s ruling cabinet last night that the Queen Elizabeth’s black alert had lasted for six days, with Monday 4 November the “worst day” since the hospital opened in 2001, with it short of 122 beds.

Council social care staff joined NHS teams to help free up beds, and the hospital is now no longer on Opel Level 4 – the NHS’s official name for a black alert. Thorpe said that he visited the hospital on Monday with his cabinet member for health, Averil Lekau, and that the black alert showed that the effects of a decade of austerity were “there for everyone to see”.

“Monday 4 November was the worst day in the history of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, they had a deficit of 122 beds, with people all over the system who needed to be placed [in the hospital],” he said.

“Clearly I would like to pay tribute to the staff who were working flat out to clear it, with our own social workers [working] to get people through the system to create capacity.

“In the end, a hospital that’s built for 100,000 people has so far seen 177,000 people on a year – the impact that sort of pressure has on the wider system needs to be noted.”

Thorpe’s intervention came as councillors on the cabinet noted the council’s latest revenue position, which shows the council’s health and adult services on track to spend nearly £12 million more than its budget, with an additional £2.2 million having to be found to support people with “no recourse to public funds” – vulnerable people who are denied assistance from the state so have to go to councils.

Christine Grice, the cabinet member for finance, said: “It does show the very severe circumstances we are facing. After 10 years of austerity it is there for everyone to see and we are having to take management action. We are in desperate need for a long-term solution to our funding position.”

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