REVEALED: How hundreds have been denied intensive care beds
By Tan Parsons ALMOST 300 patients have been transferred from the Whittington Hospital in the last five years because of a lack of beds in intensive care. An investigation by the Ham&High has revealed that in 2006-07 almost half of the 48 patients transfe
By Tan Parsons
ALMOST 300 patients have been transferred from the Whittington Hospital in the last five years because of a lack of beds in intensive care.
An investigation by the Ham&High has revealed that in 2006-07 almost half of the 48 patients transferred were taken to hospitals in boroughs other than Haringey and Islington.
The figures were unearthed following the death in March of Highgate pensioner Angela Borzoni, 69, who died of a heart attack when she was transferred from the Highgate Hill hospital to Bedford.
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After an operation to remove her spleen, she was taken on the 50-mile trip because of a lack of beds in the intensive care unit, but the ambulance was held up by road works and she died shortly after arriving.
A devout Catholic, she was a regular at St Joseph's Church on Highgate Hill, but she died before she could receive her last rites.
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This week Dr Bob Winter, president elect of the Intensive Care Society, said long distance transfers put patients' lives at risk.
Speaking to the Ham&High he said: "There's no escaping the fact people are always going to have to be transferred. There's no way of guaranteeing an intensive care bed will be available - they are very expensive. But clearly it's better for the patient if they are not transferred for non-clinical reasons."
To give an idea of numbers, he said that across nine hospitals in the East Midlands 150 to 200 patients are transferred each year because of a lack of beds in intensive care - an average of about 20 patients per hospital.
In 2003-04 the Whittington alone transferred 60 patients and sent away another 87 in 2004-05. The subsequent years saw 77, 48 and 18 patients transferred because of bed shortages.
"Cases of patients who are transferred coming to harm are very low, but by its nature, it's less safe than a fully staffed critical care unit," said Dr Winter.
"These decisions are always difficult. We have to recognise this government has made a large investment in critical care, but in Europe five per cent of hospital beds are in critical care units. In this country that figure is between one and three per cent."
A spokeswoman for the Whittington said the number of transfers has fallen significantly since its new combined intensive care unit and high dependency units opened in November 2006.
"There are two key reasons for a patient to be transferred to an external intensive care unit," she said. "Primarily this is for specialist care or very occasionally it happens if there are no available beds at the Whittington. The decision to transfer a patient from the hospital is always taken as a last resort.
"A comprehensive risk assessment of the patient's suitability is taken by the senior clinician for any transfer to an external unit.
"The Whittington is always reviewing its arrangements to ensure the best patient care," she added.