Patients have been told to stay away from a hospital’s A&E department unless they have a serious or life-threatening condition.
The alert was issued to people across north-east Essex after Colchester General Hospital declared a “major incident”.
“It is vital that emergency services are free to help people with the greatest need”
This was on the back of a surprise inspection by the Care Quality Commission on 12 November, when the health regulator raised “safeguarding concerns”.
It also found that staff were struggling to cope with “unprecedented demand”.
Dr Shane Gordon, the chief clinical officer of the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “A&E should only be used for critical or life-threatening situations requiring medical attention, such as loss of consciousness, heavy blood loss, suspected broken bones, persistent chest pain, difficulty breathing, overdoses, ingestion or poisoning.
“It is vital that emergency services are free to help people with the greatest need. Patients with minor injuries which do not require a visit to A&E (such as cuts, wounds, sprains, strains and minor burns) can also be treated at walk-in medical centres or minor injury units across north-east Essex,” he said.
“This will significantly help to relieve pressure on the hospital’s A&E teams and reduce waiting times for all patients,” he added.
The Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust said the major incident is likely to last a week. The trust’s interim chief executive, Dr Lucy Moore, described it as “a difficult time for the trust”.
In July the CQC gave the hospital an overall rating of “requires improvement”.
Peter Wilson, acting chair of the trust, told The Guardian it was facing “unprecedented demand” on its services.
Mr Wilson said they were disappointed that the CQC felt the situation at the hospital had not improved, and confirmed it had declared a major incident to review various aspects of service at the hospital.
The CQC said it will publish its latest report on the hospital “in due course”, adding that it will carry out further inspections at the trust.
At a board of directors meeting last month, a report by the hospital’s deputy director of nursing showed recruitment drives were planned for the next few months.
An additional 60 health care assistants are due to be employed by the beginning of December, while 30 registered nurses are expected to join the trust by March 2015 following interviews with nurses from the Philippines.
Sir Bob Russell, the Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, told the BBC: “We’ve had a year, 18 months of problems at Colchester General Hospital, the former chief executive, chairman and numerous members of the board have all gone, there’s a new team in there and I’m hoping that they will turn it around.
“There’s no criticism here by the way of the front-line medical staff and support staff, the criticism I have is the management historically and I’m just hoping the new management team are going to sort it out, but clearly this is very worrying,” he said.