Increased pressure on healthcare services in Suffolk has prompted a new 'escalation area' to be constructed in Ipswich Hospital, with GPs seeing a 50% increase in demand over the last few weeks.

Ipswich Hospital has created a new 'escalation area' with 14 beds for inpatients who are medically fit for discharge where they are waiting for their arrangements to be made.

East Anglian Daily Times: Nick Hulme, chief executive at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust.Nick Hulme, chief executive at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. (Image: Sarah Lucy Brown, Newsquest)

Nick Hulme, chief executive at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: "The past few days have been incredibly challenging for our hospitals and demand for our services has far exceeded all of our expectations.

"We are not currently planning to open any further escalation areas and will close this one as soon as it is safe to do so.

"Our staff are providing the services which are usually offered in the gym in different parts of the hospital, which means that patient care has not been affected."

Mr Hulme added: "Our teams are working really hard to care for all of the patients who need us.

"We are asking people who don't need urgent help right now not to come to our Emergency Departments or Urgent Treatment Centres but to use NHS 111 or a local pharmacy instead."

In the last few weeks, local GP practices have experienced an estimated increase in demand of over 50%.

A spokesman for the NHS Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated care board said: "Despite this, GP practices remain open, and we are grateful for all the hard work staff are doing to look after their patients.

"We urge anyone making contact with their practice to be patient and consider the huge pressures staff are facing.

"There may be a delay in phone calls being answered or emails responded to. Everyone is doing their very best."

They also asked people to consider the other options available, including local pharmacies where no appointment is needed to access help and advice, and NHS 111 Online which is available 24/7.

The East of England Ambulance Service announced on Wednesday it was standing down from its critical incident that was declared on December 28.  

A spokesman said: "We would like to remind the public that our services – and the NHS as a whole – remain under huge pressure and delays with handovers at hospitals remain a significant challenge.  

"We will keep our escalation position under close review."