A NORTH-EAST GP has voiced concerns that there are not enough hospital beds available in the region this winter after the NHS came under pressure last weekend.

The Darlington GP, who has asked not to be identified, said it was very concerning that at a time when he and his colleagues are seeing increasing numbers of sick and elderly patients who need a hospital bed, hospitals appear to be struggling to cope.

But health officials said that although last weekend was very busy, the NHS was prepared and winter plans are in place to cope with extra patients.

The GP said many patients who needed a bed were transferred to Darlington Memorial Hospital at the weekend because there were no beds available at the University Hospital of North Durham, in Durham City.

“This caused a lot of chaos at Darlington,” he said.

He said that in one case, a patient who was initially taken to the North Durham hospital had to be transferred by ambulance to the South Tyneside District Hospital, in South Shields, South Tyneside, because there were no vacant beds.

The GP added that many of his colleagues were worried about the reduction of hospital bed numbers in recent years.

“It is concerning that this is happening just as we are seeing increasing numbers of often elderly patients with chronic conditions who are acutely ill. How on earth are they going to manage if we get severe weather and a flu epidemic?” he added.

Trevor Johnston, lead officer for the Unison union in the North-East, said: “There was chaos over the weekend with people searching around for beds. This is a direct result of Government policy, which means that the trusts don’t have enough money. There were just not enough beds.”

A spokesman for County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust said: “The trust has an agreed winter plan with our commissioners, including actions to take during periods of pressure Last weekend was a particularly busy period for the trust and other hospitals, and the trust acted in accordance with this plan.”

A spokeswoman for NHS North-East said: “Over the past week we have seen an increase in hospital activity, particularly A&E attendances, in some parts of the region, but nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year.

Winter is always a busy time for the NHS and our organisations are very well prepared for it.”