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NHS at breaking point as nearly 1.5m patients attend A&E in one month


The NHS has been at breaking point over the past month, after nearly 100,000 more patients attended A&E departments across the country than the year before, Nursing Times can reveal.

National data revealed that nearly 1.5 million patients – 92,601 more than last year – visited A&E across England over the last month, an increase of nearly 7%.

Some areas saw much higher figures – for example, A&E units in the South East Coast region experienced a surge of 13.5%.

The figures were uncovered by a Nursing Times survey of all 10 strategic health authorities.

The increase in emergency admissions was mainly due to the cold weather over the Christmas and New Year period, NHS staff said.

An increase in respiratory conditions such as COPD and asthma, sparked by freezing conditions, was responsible for the rise, according to nurses and NHS staff.

Sian Thomas, director of NHS Employers, said: ‘Some hospitals have said that it has been the worst winter for nine or 10 years. The pressure is making it difficult to free up one single bed. When you are already working at 90–95% capacity, it has pushed people over the edge.

Elective operations may be cancelled at hospitals into February if the health service continues to come under pressure, said Ms Thomas.

‘Some hospitals will be looking at how to manage elective capacity into February. They are looking at sending elective patients to private sector hospitals. They might also be scaling back elective work or having that done somewhere else.

‘One hospital had a ward full of blocked beds – it may be about working with social care so that capacity can be freed up for people in real need of hospital care.’

Alan Dobson, RCN nurse adviser for acute and emergency care, said: ‘The pressure is going to take its toll. Where you have a 7.5% increase, and that continues, departments are going to be at breaking point. Staff become sick and that compounds the problem. It is an issue across the country.’

Mr Dobson added that the problem would get worse if the cold weather continues, because hospitals will have less spare bed space as elective operations begin again.

He said: ‘It is not just the 7% increase, but for how long that continues.

‘At Christmas and New Year, hospitals and a lot of elective work is reduced. After the Christmas and New Year period, elective patients return.’

London has been hit particularly hard. Between 8 December and 4 January, there were 293,750 attendances at A&E departments in the capital.

This was 22,083 more than during the same period a year ago, representing an increase of 7.5%.

Alison McIntosh, deputy chief executive at West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, said: ‘We have seen a whole range of problems, predominantly COPD, asthma and colds.’ ENDS 450

REGIONAL BREAKDOWN OF A&E attendances over the last month by region:

Strategic Health Authority2007 figures2008 figuresDifference% increase
NHS South East Coast124,813141,63516,82213.48%
NHS North East74,16578,2994,1345.57%
NHS East of England109,918116,8206,9026.28%
NHS East Midlands80,76989,6828,91311.04%
NHS North West226,121246,11919,9988.84%
NHS South West117,653124,2066,5535.57%
NHS West Midlands135,812143,9488,1365.99%
NHS Yorks and Humber125,888118,103-7,785-6.18%
NHS London271,677293,75022,0738.12%
NHS South Central102,634109,4896,8556.68%



Readers' comments (2)

  • Is anyone actually monitoring whether or not all these people attending our A and E Departments should be there in the first place?
    As with all emergency services, they are often abused and misused for all manner of reasons. Have felt for a long time that all of these services need to be far more strictly policed to stop abusers/misusers/time wasters from behaving in a way that seriously affects people in real need of emergency care.

    Pat Huxtable, Southsea

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  • I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by the previous respondent. When will someone in a senior enough position have the nerve to address the problem? Not soon I would imagine. Its the same with the abuse of ambulance services, people dial 999 for the most trivial things. Its time for rationing as already happens with other areas of the NHS.

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