FEARS surrounding the capacity of Swindon's month-old Great Western Hospital have been justified after the NHS Trust wrote to GPs pleading with them not to admit emergency patients. Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust faxed all surgeries across the borough informing GPs of the "untenable" bed situation at the GWH.

The letter, from duty on-call manager Mike Bowes, read: "As I write the bed situation in the Great Western Hospital has become untenable. Over the past few days we have experienced higher levels of emergency admissions and ongoing difficulties with discharge. Consequently we have had to cancel both elective and urgent surgery.

It continued: "Unfortunately every trolley, bed and bed space is in use currently it is extremely difficult to find spaces to examine patients."

The GWH opened last month at a cost of £150m. Although the hospital is 10 per cent bigger than its predecessor, Princess Margaret Hospital, it only has 32 beds more.

Dr Peter Swinyard, a GP at the Phoenix Surgery in Toothill, said: "I am on record as saying the GWH was built too small and I don't think anyone thinks it's big enough.

"I recall a similar situation two years ago when PMH had to cancel operations and the situation still remains the same.

"There are no epidemics or disasters at the moment, but what happens in February when we will start to see the flu bug?"

Concern at the apparent shortage of beds was raised when plans for the new hospital were unveiled four years ago.

Retired David Holliday, 70, of Greywethers Avenue in Lawn, wrote to the NHS Trust, local MPs and councillors predicting that the 559 beds would be insufficient.

He said: "I hate to say I told you so, but if PMH couldn't cope with the number of patients then the GWH certainly can't.

"This revelation doesn't come as a great surprise to me because the people who built the hospital didn't listen to the doctors and nurses who do such a good job."

A 60-bed intermediate care centre was built yards away from the GWH to give patients ready to leave the hospital an environment in which to convalesce. A 110-bed dedicated routine surgery unit should be open next year.

South Swindon MP Julia Drown said: "Delayed discharges are the main issue patients who are ready to leave hospital shouldn't be there because it is not a healthy place to be. The solution isn't to keep on building more facilities in the hospital, but making sure there is flexibility in the system."

Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust deputy director of finance, Steven Haynes, said: "There is no denying the volume of people waiting to be moved is higher than we would all like this always happens this time of year. Bed blocking is high but the health service is dependant on social services, the council and the public sector for solutions.

"A peak in demand for our services reached a height last Thursday, but the situation is quickly returning to normal."