WINTER pressure on hospitals has been so severe that NHS chiefs have treated it the same way they would a major incident.

Demand for acute hospital beds in the new year led the NHS to declare a ‘level four’ emergency which is the same as if it were dealing with a major incident, said leaders at Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust.

The trust runs Bromsgrove’s Princess of Wales Community Hospital (as well as hospitals in Malvern, Evesham, Pershore and Tenbury) and is vital in taking pressure off acute hospitals such as the Alexandra in Redditch.

Jan Ditheridge, the trust’s chief operating officer, said at a recent meeting of the trust: “Over the new year we have seen significant pressure on the needs of the acute trust for medical beds.

“This has required a response from the whole health and the social care economy (GPs, nursing homes and community hospitals).

“We would expect to see this spike in demand but it has been particularly challenging this year.”

Mrs Ditheridge said the outbreak was ‘level four’ because it reflected the action that would be taken in the event of a major incident.

She added that despite the pressure the trust had never had to use all beds in community hospitals.

This has been achieved by staff from the health and care trust helping patients to be discharged safely into the community and their own homes during peak times.