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North West hospitals encountering unprecedented pressure

17 Jan 2017

The Royal College of Nursing has warned patient care is being put at risk and is calling on the Government to address the health and social care crisis. Two hospital trusts in the North West declared a major alert in the first week of the New Year as they encountered unprecedented pressures

They registered an OPEL 4 incident (black alert) – indicating that they were unable to deliver comprehensive care, with increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised.*

A further ten hospitals in the North West declared an OPEL 3 incident which denotes a significant deterioration in performance against the A&E 4 hour target and patient flow being considerably affected.*

As mounting bed shortages led to large numbers of patients experiencing trolley waits and delays in A&E, the following three hospitals in the region took the the step of temporarily diverting ambulances away from their A&E departments to provide temporary respite.*

Estephanie Dunn, Regional Director of RCN North West, said: “Our own members working on the front line are telling us about the significant pressures they are experiencing hour by hour across the system. We welcome that Ministers recognise the commitment of staff to deliver effective frontline care. However relying on the goodwill of staff to keep the system going is not sustainable over the long term and must now be urgently addressed.

“The long term implication of maintaining the system at these unprecedented levels is unrealistic and dangerous as highly skilled nursing staff will be no longer be willing to work in the service and the NHS will no longer deliver an appropriate service to patients.”

She added: “There are already 24,000 vacant nursing posts in the country and we can only expect the situation to worsen. Since the Government announced the withdrawal of student funding for would-be nurses, it’s already been reported that there is a 20% drop in applications for graduate nursing courses, with some universities reporting the decrease at around half the usual numbers.

"The 1% pay cap on salaries is also not helping to encourage people into nursing or is causing existing nurses to reconsider whether they can even afford to continue in the profession as they struggle to provide for themselves and their families and we are calling on the Government to reinstate student funding and get rid of the pay cap to encourage more people into nursing.”

*Figures provided by NHS England and House of Commons Library. For further information see notes to editors. 

Notes to Editors 

1. North West hospital trusts declaring an OPEL 4 incident:
• Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust
• Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust

2. North West hospital trusts declaring an OPEL 3 incident:
• Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
• Countess Of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
• East Cheshire NHS Trust
• East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
• Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
• Liverpool Women's NHS Foundation Trust
• Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
• St Helens And Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust
• Warrington And Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
• Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

3. North West hospital trusts placing a temporary A&E divert:
• Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
• University Hospital of South Manchester
• Stockport NHS Foundation Trust

4. The RCN is the voice of nursing across the UK and is the largest professional union of nursing staff in the world.  The RCN promotes the interest of nurses and patients on a wide range of issues and helps shape healthcare policy by working closely with the UK Government and other national and international institutions, trade unions, professional bodies and voluntary organisations. 

5. Find out more about the RCN’s Nursing Counts Campaign here:

6. For further information, please contact RCN Regional Communications Managers, Danielle Scapens (Mon-Wed) on 01204 552479, email on or Kevin Terry (Thurs & Fri) on 0113 386 0512, email on 

Page last updated - 15/06/2018