NHS hospitals in Devon enter 'highest level of escalation' after 'pressures' caused by strikes

The NHS in Devon says it is preparing to take extra measures to keep patients safe because hospital emergency departments are under pressure due to doctors' strikes.

In a statement, NHS Devon said it had entered OPEL 4 - the highest level of escalation - following the "continued pressures".

It said this week's walkout by junior doctors from 7am on Wednesday until 7am on Saturday has "left many hospitals facing difficulties in filling rotas, especially over the next two evenings - Thursday and Friday".

And despite consultants ending their separate 48-hour strike on Thursday morning, "there remain far fewer clinical staff in hospital emergency departments than usual".

Measures to help A&Es cope could include people in the county who aren't critically ill being re-directed from hospital emergency departments to other services.

This would allow the reduced number of staff on shift to care for the patients most in need of emergency treatment, said NHS Devon.

Ambulances who attend call-outs across Devon and parts of South East Cornwall may need to take patients to an emergency department that isn't their local hospital where they may be seen sooner, depending on the needs of the patient and the pressures in the emergency departments at the time.

Although health workers have been "working hard" to deal with the impact of the strikes, the NHS is now preparing to "deploy further measures if they are needed in coming days", the statement also said.

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'We are counting on the understanding of local people'

In advice issued for local people, the NHS stressed when someone is seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk - they should still call 999 immediately.

Patients who require urgent treatment, but do not have symptoms of a life-threatening condition, should call 111 or use the 111 service online, the advice added.

Devon's chief medical officer Nigel Acheson said: "We have been doing everything we can to keep patients and colleagues safe through this period of extreme pressure due to the industrial action.

"We are ready to put in place all measures needed to make sure we can look after the people who most desperately need our help.

"We are counting on the understanding of local people at this difficult time and we encourage everyone to follow the advice we are giving today."