PERFORMANCE: Patient volumes forced the accident and emergency department at East Surrey Hospital to close for five hours last month in a situation more akin to winter pressures.

The hospital in Redhill reported significant pressure on its A&E unit during the last two weeks of July which culminated in the department’s closure to all except “blue light” cases, for over five hours on 19 July. Patients were diverted as far afield as Brighton and Tunbridge Wells between 4.30pm and 10pm.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust, which runs the hospital, is categorised as “challenged” by NHS West Sussex and board papers record it as consistently “red” rated for four A&E indicators.

The trust’s latest performance report says 82.6 per cent of patients were dealt with in under four hours in June – although this represents an improvement on the 75.6 per cent and 79.9 per cent figures for the previous two months. The national “quality indicator” states 95 per cent should be dealt with within four hours.

In a statement dated 29 July, East Surrey chief executive Michael Wilson said: “These last two weeks have been very challenging ones for the trust with large numbers of patients coming to our emergency department - so much so that on occasion we have only been able to accept seriously ill patients brought in under blue lights.

“This is obviously not a great experience for our patients and creates a stressful working environment for our staff.”

He added that plans were in place to improve the emergency department and its size would “eventually” increase.

“By Christmas 2011, the flow of patients through the department will be enhanced,” Mr Wilson said.

“We are also working with our primary care trust partners to identify additional capacity as quickly as we can. In the meantime we must continue to work with our health partners to ensure the provision of safe, high quality care for our patients.”

Local campaigners, including Conservative MP Henry Smith, have blamed the problems on the closure in 2005 of the A&E department at Crawley Hospital, which now has an urgent treatment centre.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare is projected by the Sussex commissioning support unit to be £5.1m overspent on its service level agreement plan and £9.4m over budget at the end of the year.