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Nurses warn of A&E doctors on 'safari rounds' to find 'lost' patients

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Rising pressure in accident and emergency departments across the UK is leading to patients queuing on trolleys in corridors for hours and getting “lost” in hospitals due to repeated moves, senior nurses from the Royal College of Nursing have warned.

Chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s emergency care association Janet Youd told a press conference at the college’s annual congress many A&Es were seeing a return to practices of 15 years ago when waits of 12 hours or more were common.

In the week ending 17 March 2013 A&E departments in England saw more than twice as many patients as the same week in 2012. Just 90% of these patients were admitted, treated or discharged within four hours compared to 95.3% in the same week last year. The national target is 95%.

RCN regional officer for the south east Patricia Marquis said the situation had got even worse in the past few weeks with more and more reports coming in from worried A&E nurses. She said at least one trust, Oxford Univeristy Hospitals, had started employing a “queue” nurse to look after patients waiting for space to become available for them to be triaged.

She said the introduction of the NHS 111 non-emergency phone number, which has been blamed for increased emergency demand in some areas, could have been the “final straw” but was not the main driver of the rise in demand.

 Regional officer for the East of England Karen Webb said hospital consultants in at least three counties in her region referred to doing “safari rounds” because their patients had been moved due to pressures on beds and become “lost”.

She said: “Patients are woken up at three in the morning and moved around the hospital, cupboards and catheter laboratories are used to house patients. Across East of England these incidents are becoming increasingly commonplace.”

One nurse from Wales broke down in tears as he told of the “heart-breaking” situation in his hospital where patients had waited on trolleys for 24 hours and nurses struggled to find somewhere to take patients to wash.

RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said the system was not “coping”.

He added: “Rather than banter with the government about who is right and who is wrong, let’s come to terms with the fact the system is in crisis.”

Figures from the Department of Health show 17.3 million patients attended A&E in 2012, up by more than one million on 2011.

Research by Nursing Times last year found the number of patients waiting more than four hours but less than 12 hours for admission from A&E in the first six months of 2012 had increased by 31% on the same period in the previous year.

Regional office for the south west Jeanett Martin told Nursing Times every trust in her region was experiencing extreme pressure.  She said Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust had seen a 50% increase in attendances in the last weeks, 70% of whom required admission showing they were not inappropriate attendances.

RCN  Nurse adviser on acute, emergency and critical care JP Nolan blamed the rise on the reduction in the number of NHS hospital beds without a corresponding rise in community services .

“For a long time there has been a perception the emergency department should solve the problems, but actually it’s beyond our control,” he said.

Mr Nolan is a member of the group set up by NHS England to review provision of urgent and emergency care. He told Nursing Times there was a need to take a more patient centred approach to how services are designed.

A spokeswoman for the department of health said: “We know there are increasing pressures on A&E departments - they are seeing an extra one million more patients compared to two years ago but despite this are still trying to ensure patients don’t face excessive waits for treatment.

“At a local level, the NHS needs to ensure it has proper plans in place to deal with high demand on A&E.  But it’s obvious that this isn’t just about A&E services in isolation it’s also about how the NHS works as a whole, and how it works with other areas such as social care.

  • 17 Comments

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Readers' comments (17)

  • Patients in cupboards?

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  • Doctors on Safari is going to end up right up there with "wrong kind of snow" and "leaves on the line".

    Paul Merton and Ian Heslop will be all over this story.....

    As for patients in cupboards, this should be an easy way of keeping track of patients as you can store them alphabetically. I hope Karen Webb's MP sees this and questions her about the allegation of patients being kept in cupboards.

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  • How about electronic tagging of patients? It works with aircraft and criminals and I'm sure many other things. It would be a useful audit tool for how long patients remain in a location and that information could be used to influence change to improve efficiency. That sort of data would also be harder to lose and one would imagine impossible to manipulate to cover up poor performance.

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  • Have to support and agree with all the comments in the article. Patients in treatment rooms was fast becoming the norm in my Trust until they opened extra wards.
    I nursed a gentleman who'd been in hospital and spent every night on a different ward!

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  • Yes But

    Is there an agenda here ?

    The NHS is under pressure, because of too many patients costing too much to treat: I remember those old films, and safari used to involve tracking down an unsuspecting beast and then shooting it dead with a rifle - is this new plan to reduce patient numbers?

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  • They could be chipped and then found via GPS...

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  • they wouldn't have fitted in our cupboards however we did put them to sleep in bathrooms on occasions

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  • I have actually used A&E toilets and a store room to examine patients during busy times whilst others are happy to flash me in the waiting room if it means less 'waiting for a room'.

    Trying to find a consulting room in A&E for the walking wounded is a real challenge and one that both my patient and myself have risen to.

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  • Hospital beds are being closed because with the new leaner service we don't need them . . .
    Well so they say.
    With a massive population explosion going on, how can we need less beds. Anyhow my hospital closes beds and then oppens up 'winter pressure wards' all year round. Problem solved then.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 24-Apr-2013 7:14 pm

    I'm sorry, but you are obviously far too much into logical thinking, to be involved in NHS planning - I suspect you are the sort of person who might come up with something really annoying: such as 'surely we need enough beds to be able to cope with the peaks of demand, not just with the average demand ?', and where would that get anyone !

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