Patients have been asked to share a cubicle during busy periods at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s A&E department this winter.
The Gayton Road hospital introduced the measure in December as part of an escalation plan to improve its ambulance handover times.
But hospital chiefs say it has only happened a handful of times and patients are carefully selected to share a double cubicle.
The hospital and East of England Ambulance Service have set 15 minute targets for paramedics to hand over patients to A&E.
But the West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said breaches were at a “very high level in December”. The hospital has not met the 95 per cent standard of the four hour wait at A&E with a performance of only 85.6 per cent in December and 81.3 per cent in January.
The hospital has had a busy winter and was also on internal black alert in December.
Rob Heywood, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said the trust and the ambulance service had been working to improve handover times as well as strengthening recruitment.
He said: “There are occasions when the A&E Department becomes very busy when more than one patient is cared for in one of the larger cubicles in the A&E Department.
“These patients are selected using clinical criteria by senior nurses within the A&E Department, and the patients’ dignity and privacy are maintained at all times.”
The hospital said there have been three days this winter when two patients have needed to share a cubicle.
Patients selected to share are not acutely unwell, have been medically assessed and are waiting for a bed on a ward.
This escalation plan, which also includes the opening of escalation beds on several wards, was agreed with the CCG at the end of December and it is used by other hospitals to prevent patients needing to wait in an entrance or corridor.
Mr Heywood said; “We are working closely with CCG to ensure that appropriate community care is available so that patients who no longer need to be in hospital can be discharged.
“The timely discharge from hospital at the end of a patient’s stay is the single biggest factor that contributes to delays in ambulance handovers at the start of a patient’s time in hospital.”
Vice-chairman of the West Norfolk Patient Participation Group June Leamon has spoken out against the move.
She said: “Unless there is an absolute emergency, this is unacceptable for dignity, confidentiality and would add stress to patients and relatives already in a very vulnerable situation and more people suffer ill health.”
North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said he wanted more information about the issue and would be raising it with senior managers.
But he said the case highlighted the need for walk-in centres and appropriate out of hours GP cover, which he argues would reduce the pressure on hospital units.
“I had a woman at my surgery the other day with a bad back. She couldn’t get an appointment with her GP, so she went to A&E. That’s not good use of A&E, but you can understand why she did it.
“A priority for this Government if it gets back or an incoming Government has to be take the pressure off A&E.”
Labour candidate Jo Rust feared the sharing of cubicles could breach requirements for single sex treatment.
She said: “I fully understand the pressure that the QEH is under and the effort the staff are making to bring the hospital up to scratch.
“I feel very strongly that our hospital, which we rely on and need, is only in the precarious financial situation it is in because of the fact that the Government has under funded it. That funding needs to be re-assessed so the nurses have the time and physical resources.”