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Jan 13th, 2017

NHS Funding crisis: hospitals on red or black alert

By Megan Bentall

Hospitals across England are at breaking point. Bosses in hospitals all over the country have gone on the record to say that urgent action is needed to make sure patients stay safe.

In the past this level of crisis was known as hospitals being on ‘red alert’ or ‘black alert’ and so the media is referring to this current situation in the same terms. The new ranking NHS England uses is known as Operational Pressures Escalation Levels (OPEL). Red alerts are now known as OPEL 3 and black alerts are known as OPEL 4.

You can see how NHS England designates these warnings in the below table:


The key language used in these alerts, that 38 Degrees have referred to to explain what the situation means for patients, are as follows:

OPEL 3 (‘red alerts’):

“The local health and social care system is experiencing major pressures compromising patient flow and continues to increase.”

OPEL 4 (‘black alerts’):

“Pressure in the local health and social care system continues to escalate leaving organisations unable to deliver comprehensive care. There is increased potential for patient care and safety to be compromised.”

Every week NHS England publishes an update as to what areas are on OPEL 3 or 4 alert. This week’s data was published this morning. You can check out their full report to see the status of hospitals in your area, and any others you might be interested in here:


The 38 Degrees office team reviewed the report and have found that 66 hospital areas are operating on either OPEL 3 or OPEL 4. Hospital trust’s catchment areas are not precise when it comes to what constituencies use individual hospitals. We’ve attempted to identify the constituencies most likely to be affected by these OPEL alerts, but we can’t be 100% certain of our accuracy so would welcome feedback.

You can see how we’ve attached constituencies to hospital trusts in our breakdown of the NHS England report here:


If you spot any errors please let the office team know! You can send an email to emailtheteam@38degrees.org.uk.

If you live in an affected area and want to get in touch with your MP to ask them to demand more funding for the NHS you can do so here:


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