Plans in place at West Suffolk Hospital as demand on services expected to increase in winter
West Suffolk Hospital is preparing for a busy winter, but is yet to confirm if a second 'winter escalation ward' will be able to open.
The trust is already experiencing a 10 per cent increase in demand on its emergency department – it saw a similar increase last winter – but has put measures in place to cope.
A new acute assessment unit opened as planned on November 30, while 32 beds are already open on one winter escalation ward in the Bury St Edmunds hospital's former cardiology inpatient ward.
But staffing levels could scupper a second ward.
Rowan Procter, executive chief nurse at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The final stage of the trust’s plans to create additional capacity is to create a second winter escalation ward. This is dependent on being able to provide appropriate staffing levels."
She said the trust was identifying residential and care homes which could support patients who need care after being in hospital.
"This will help to ensure that only the acutely sickest patients in our community are in hospital beds," she added.
The trust's plans for winter come alongside new data showing St Edmundsbury has one of the highest rates of excess winter deaths in the east of England.
Around 34 per cent more people died in winter than in summer on average, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Across the east of England, the figure is 24 per cent.
The ONS compares the number of additional deaths between December and March to the rest of the year.
During winter 2016/17, the latest period figures are available, there were about 110 excess winter deaths in St Edmundsbury, meaning 34 per cent more people died in winter compared with the yearly average.
This was higher than in the previous year, when there were 26 per cent more deaths during winter.
Provisional data for England and Wales shows excess winter deaths hit their highest level in more than 40 years in 2017/18. There were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths, 45 per cent higher than 2016/17.
The Department of Health and Social Care said 2017/18 figures ‘were likely the result of a combination of flu and cold weather’.