Patients Told To Avoid Colchester A&E

Patients have been told to stay away from Colchester 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".

This was on the back of a surprise inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Wednesday where 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 (CCG), 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.

"This will significantly help to relieve pressure on the hospital's A&E teams and reduce waiting times for all patients."

The Colchester Hospital University NHS 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 chairman of Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation 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", and added that it will carry out further inspections at the trust.