A hospital in Essex has reportedly declared a major incident after ambulances with patients inside were forced to queue up.
Around 10 ambulances were waiting outside Southend Hospital this afternoon as the A&E department was too busy to offload patients, according to BBC Essex.
It is understood officials have declared an Internal Critical Incident ‘due to significant flow challenges’, with more patients being admitted to hospital than there are discharges.
It is not clear what has caused the queues but coronavirus cases are rising in Southend, with 348 new infections recorded in the seven days up to December 5, up from 253 in the previous seven days.
Tom Abell, Deputy Chief Executive, for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, confirmed Southend Hospital is ‘extremely busy’ and asked residents not to turn up to the hospital unless their case is an emergency.
He said: ‘Southend Hospital is extremely busy today with a high number of patients who need our care.
‘We are working hard to see people as quickly as possible in our emergency department, and to make sure there are beds for those who need them in the hospital.
‘While we work to improve the situation we would ask anyone who doesn’t need emergency care to call 111 and look for alternative options.’
Essex is currently under tier two lockdown restrictions but it is thought some areas will be moved up a level when the system is reviewed on December 16.
Basildon Council deputy leader Kerry Smith said ‘it has been rumoured’ that Basildon, Thurrock, Harlow, Epping and Brentwood could go into tier three while the rest of the county remains in tier two.
Currently the Government has chosen not to spilt up regions but it is thought this may be considered for Essex, where infection rates vary widely.
Basildon has one of the highest infection rates in the country. On Tuesday leader of Southend Council Ian Gilbert warned it was ‘clear’ cases were also on the rise there.
Winter is usually a busy time for the NHS and there were fears this year would be worse than usual if people caught coronavirus and flu at the same time.
However figures last week showing flu and covid rates are falling offered some hope the health service may dodge a winter crisis.
The number of cases of the influenza virus is at its lowest level in years, with reports of symptoms of the illness 10 times below last year’s figures.
It is thought measures to combat the pandemic – including social distancing, wearing face masks and hand washing – has also helped fight off the flu.
Scientists say they are now ‘optimistic’ the country is past the peak of the second wave.
But they still fear the easing of restrictions over Christmas could lead to a ‘third wave’ of cases.
Although the NHS began rolling out the approved Pfizer vaccine this week, people are still being warned to stick to the rules.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs today that we must ‘temper our joy and enthusiasm’ about the vaccine breakthrough ‘with the need to keep each other safe’.
He added: ‘Let’s not blow it since we can see the answer is on the horizon.’
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