Medical staff at Kettering General Hospital were placed on the highest alert level possible for several hours on Sunday because of “sustained and significant” pressure on beds and accident and emergency.
The black alert, in which additional staff are called in, more beds opened and routine operations cancelled, came in the midst of what the hospital called “unprecedented” pressure on its services.
That pressure led to an appeal on Monday for people to try to avoid A&E unless their condition was a genuine emergency and to think about using alternative services, such as Corby Urgent Care Centre.
Since Sunday, the hospital has reverted to a red alert but this still means there is significant pressure on wards and A&E.
A spokesman for Kettering General Hospital described the current situation as the busiest winter ever.
He added: “The number of acutely unwell patients attending the hospital’s A&E departments requiring urgent hospital admission has inevitably had an impact on all services.
“All patients who are affected by the postponements will be contacted personally to have their appointment rearranged, so there is no need to contact the hospital directly.”
“The hospital has seen a large number of poorly patients this winter. Many are older patients, with multiple problems, or people who have severe respiratory conditions that do require specialist hospital care.
“It is a situation being mirrored across the country.”
The black alert lasted for several hours on Sunday and reverted to a red alert on Monday, where it remained yesterday.
The hospital spokesman stressed that A&E remained open throughout the black alert.
He added: “We have never done this [closed A&E] in the hospital’s history.
“The trust meets five times per day to assess its capacity and to take appropriate actions.”
The hospital’s chief operating officer, Alan Gurney, said additional beds had been opened at the hospital to allow staff to meet the care needs of patients.
He added: “We apologise for having to rearrange some routine operations and outpatient appointments but our first priority must be to appropriately treat medical emergencies.
“Over the last two weeks we have had a 15 per cent increase in admissions to hospital beds.
“Compared to the same period last year – when we were also very busy – that means we are receiving, on average, an additional 16 patients needing beds each day.
“It is the busiest winter anyone can remember and we are treating an unprecedented influx of acutely ill patients who really need hospital care, sometimes for several days.”
Over the past 10 days KGH says it has seen 2,022 patients in A&E and admitted 899 to hospital beds.
While the hospital remains under pressure, patients are being asked to think about using alternative services.
They are asked to make appointments with GPs for minor injuries and illnesses, or phone the NHS non-emergency telephone line on 111.
Alternatively, residents living in Corby can use the Corby Urgent Care Centre, in Cottingham Road, which is open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
Alert levels explained
Kettering General Hospital uses a four-level traffic light-style alert system which is monitored five times a day to keep track of capacity.
When the hospital is at green alert, it means it is business as usual.
At amber, parts of the hospital are beginning to come under pressure and staff involved in patient flow through the organisation begin to look at how blockages or delays can be addressed.
This may involve focusing on discharge or moving patients on quickly from A&E and wards.
At red, the level yesterday, there is significant or very significant pressure on the hospital either in A&E or on beds, or on both.
At this point waiting times in A&E can increase because it is hard to move patients who need admission. More staff may be brought in and more beds opened.
At black alert, the additional space created in the red alert has been filled. Some routine operations and outpatient clinics would be selectively cancelled.