Accident and emergency staff offered a good overall experience for the majority of people attending their services in 2014, but failed to provide reassurance to distressed patients in around a quarter of cases, a report by the hospital regulator has found.
The findings from this year’s national NHS patient survey for accident and emergency services come against a background of rising waiting times, suggesting staff are under more pressure than ever.
The survey, which looked at attendances at 142 trusts during the winter, found that 80% of the 40,000 patients who took part reported having a good experience. This was up from 76% in 2012, when the last survey took place.
Almost 80% of patients also said they had been treated with dignity and respect for the duration of the time they were in accident and emergency.
However, the Care Quality Commission said it was “concerning” that – in a new question added this year – the survey found of the 16,500 people who felt distressed during their attendance, 22% said staff did not help to reassure them.
“There has been no change since 2012, despite hospital and ambulance trusts working together to improve handover times for a significant period”
The regulator called for more to be done to support vulnerable patients, after further analysis revealed those with a mental health condition or learning disability were more likely to say they had not been reassured when distressed (33% and 31%, respectively).
The CQC noted that the results also showed more should be done to ensure A&E services were “safe, effective and responsive”, after the survey found 11% of those patients arriving by ambulance waited more than 30 minutes to be handed over to the emergency department staff.
“Many people are waiting too long to be seen and treated in A&E. This is not acceptable and hospitals and ambulance providers must work together to ensure patients are transferred as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary clinical risks,” said the CQC in its report, which was published today.
“Overall the results of this survey are encouraging, despite the known increase in pressures on A&E departments”
It added: “There has been no change in this picture since 2012 with the exception of a small decline in those waiting 15 minutes or less. This is despite hospital and ambulance trusts working together to improve handover times for a significant period of time.”
Overall, 27% of all patients waited more than 60 minutes before being examined by a doctor or a nurse – compared to 29% in 2012 – and 3% of those waited over four hours.
The CQC said it was “essential” that trusts reviewed their practices and staffing levels to ensure people were seen and treated in a timely manner, and within the Department of Health’s standards.
Another new question this year asked about waiting times for pain relief. It found that, of the near third who requested this medication, 13% waited for more than 30 minutes and 8% never received it.
Other findings from the survey included that 15% of patients were not offered a discussion with a nurse or doctor about anxieties related to their treatment or condition, and 30% were not told who to contact if they become worried about these after leaving A&E.
Meanwhile, the report said it was “not acceptable” that in more than 40% of cases patients were still not told about possible side effects of new medication, and that around a quarter were either given none or not enough information about their condition or treatment.
Mike Richards, CQC chief inspector of hospitals, said: “Overall the results of this survey are encouraging, with better results in 2014 than in 2012 despite the known increase in pressures on A&E departments.
“However, we do see significant variations between trusts,” he said. “This highlights the need for all trusts to review their own results and to take action where necessary.”