A report highlighting severe bed pressures that could contribute to future errors at Carlisle's Cumberland Infirmary is proof that community hospitals must be saved, campaigners claim.

Six so-called "never events" were recently revealed at north Cumbria's hospitals, including a wrong eye being injected, wrong tooth extracted and a patient having the wrong leg anaesthetised prior to surgery.

A leaked report from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) highlighted problems that could contribute to future problems, describing a "firefighting" environment as staff struggle with bed pressures.

Those fighting to save community hospital beds across north Cumbria say that those pressures will worsen further if controversial plans, drawn up by the Government's Success Regime, to close inpatient units in Wigton, Alston and Maryport go ahead.

They claim the hospitals act as "release valves" to ensure patients aren't left bed-blocking in acute hospitals.

Alice Bondi, from the Alston hospital campaign group, said: “The RCS report, which points out that the centralisation of services at the Cumberland Infirmary is putting so much pressure on staff that ‘never events’ are happening, must surely also give massive weight to the argument against closing the community hospitals.

"The Alston hospital often takes people who are not sick enough to be in an acute hospital like Carlisle, but not yet quite well enough to return home, needing ongoing nursing oversight and care.

"The pressure on Carlisle is becoming quite overwhelming, by all accounts, so it seems disordered thinking to propose closing release valves like Wigton and Alston community hospitals."

She added: "The Success Regime consultation document actually suggests reducing the number of beds at the West Cumberland Hospital and Cumberland Infirmary by 100 by 2020 – we really do wonder what universe these people are living in.

"Community hospitals have performed vital functions within the NHS from the day of its creation.

"At a time when the pressure on acute hospitals is growing, it surely makes more sense to re-instate the beds that were closed a few years ago, rather than close all that remain."

Eveline Dugdale, of Wigton League of Friends, agreed that the RCS report adds further weight to their arguments.

"We do feel that this means we are more valued than the Success Regime has given us credit for. This shows they do need us," she said.

Mrs Dugdale said a friend is currently in the infirmary waiting for a space at Wigton so she can start intensive physiotherapy.

She said that without community hospital beds even more people would find themselves stuck in the acute hospital because they can't yet go home.

"We are 100 per cent full. This is all proof that we need the beds and everything that goes with them. Where else will they go?" she said.

The RCS was invited to visit the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals in July to see what progress had been made to improve safety after the six never events, which happened across the two sites between July 2015 and February 2016.

Its report, leaked to the News & Star, said there were no immediate patient safety concerns but highlighted a number of "significant concerns".

They included ongoing pressures facing the trust, which could potentially lead to more errors if not addressed.

It said: “Theatre staff and managers are under immense pressure as they are constantly firefighting in relation to beds, staffing issues and equipment.

“Pressures which are placed on staff, most notably in respect of beds, staffing and equipment issues on the day of theatre, are causing significant distractions which could contribute to the occurrence of never events."

Trust bosses have reassured patients that services are safe, stressing that an improvement plan is being implemented.

Nationally winter pressures are currently causing high-profile pressures across the NHS, particularly in A&E departments.

In Carlisle it has previously been documented that high levels of emergency admissions are leading to bed pressures, prompting bosses to urge people to use A&E only when necessary.

Ms Bondi added that minor injuries units like that in Alston also help to keep people out of A&E, but said that without its beds and the accompanying nursing staff the unit would close.

“The pressure on Carlisle very much includes the numbers arriving at A&E.

"If Alston community hospital is closed, then there will be no nurses to staff our 24/7 nurse-led minor injuries unit – and so people suffering relatively minor accidents and other problems will be turning up at Carlisle A&E rather than seeing our local nurses," she explained.

"This cannot possibly make sense in any case, but when the hospital concerned is cracking under the strain, it is frankly irresponsible.”