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Nurses warn patients already left on trolleys as winter crisis looms


Pressure on hospital capacity is already reaching levels normally seen later in the year, sparking fears from nurses that the NHS will struggle to cope more than usual this winter.

Official figures show patient waiting times were approaching winter levels by the end of September, and Nursing Times has learnt that ward managers at one trust have raised concerns about patient safety due to lack of beds.

Department of Health figures for July to September show about 21,000 accident and emergency patients waited more than four hours for a bed, equivalent to 2.6% of all emergency admissions. This compares with 1.9% in the same period in 2010 and 1.2% in 2009.

Annual data trends suggest rates for July to September are likely to double during December to March.

Royal College of Nursing urgent and emergency care adviser Alan Dobson said the increases were being driven by hospitals closing beds without capacity being created elsewhere in the system, for example the community.

“We are getting lots of reports that there is extreme pressure out there in all areas of emergency care but particularly around capacity to admit patients. It’s going to get worse [in the winter]. Nurses are saying they’re very worried about it,” he said.

Nursing Times has seen an anonymous letter sent to the RCN by a group of concerned sisters and charge nurses running an over stretched A&E department who are being forced to leave patients on trolleys.

They write: “As a caring professional group …we are very concerned about the safety of the patients being brought to our department, as there is often no cubicle space for them to be assessed in. New patients often start on a trolley in a corridor with no privacy.”

They say their hospital has lost 56 beds this year due to two ward closures.

“Over the summer months we have seen an increase in demand with less beds in the hospital and we find our department full of patients that we cannot move on due to insufficient capacity,” the say.

“We are all used to working hard. We never refuse an ambulance regardless of our circumstances. This places us under intense pressure,” they add.

Last week the Department of Health launched Winterwatch – an online facility monitoring the impact of winter pressures, including flu, on A&E departments.

The DH figures for July to September show East Surrey Hospital as having the worst performance, with 26.6% of patients admitted through A&E waited more than four hours for a bed.

Michael Wilson, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust, which runs the hospital, said the trust had initiated a £14m building programme to increase capacity. More nurses have also been introduced into the emergency department and hourly comfort rounds have been introduced for waiting patients.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Well what the hell did the DoH expect to hap[pen when they have had a sustained programme of shutting down wards and cutting beds and staff for years now?

    It is so ridiculously moronic it would be funny if it weren't so serious!

    Patient numbers are growing exponentially, the way to deal with that is to open MORE wards and beds, and get MORE staff to work them! It isn't rocket science!!!!

    And for those who argue about money and cost cutting, well lets start with a few executive salaries first eh? The health care budget of any civilised developed country should not be cut at all, health care is NOT a luxury provided to citizens that can be cut at a whim, it is a fundamental pillar of society and the funds shouls be made available to run it at the level it needs to run at! It really is that simple!

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  • Ha, no surprises there then! My own trust closed beds on wards, and redeployed staff, only to have to re-open them again almost immediately, but on reduced staff numbers. What are they on for goodness sake? Its going to be a long hard winter in more ways than one.

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  • tinkerbell

    mike | 23-Nov-2011 10:46 am

    Exactly! Simon Burns MP has called all those involved with scaremongering about the NHS and sending MP's emails on 38 degrees 'zombies'.There is some video footage of him doing so on 38 degrees website. Another email just gone off to Mr Burns informing him that trying to dehumanise those with genuine concerns about the way our NHS is being destroyed is undemocratic (to say the least).

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  • I work in Vancouver and it's just as bad here. The ER has nursing stations opposite elevators and every corridor is filled with stretchers. It's not unusual for a patient to wait 4 days before a bed on a ward is found for them. The oncology unit I work on has 5 hallway beds, there used to be just 3 but in the summer our manager announced we were getting 2 more. We had half an hour's notice, received 2 extra patients but no extra staff. Yesterday our manager came onto the ward to see who we could discharge among our acutely ill patients, apparently we had not discharged enough patients this week, and 75 people had been admitted to the ER that day. Needless to say patients hadn't been discharged for a reason, they were too sick! Just wanted to say it's not only the NHS patients that are suffering in this way.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 25-Nov-2011 5:18 pm

    Thank you for adding a wider perspective than just UK experience.

    Although 'seasonal/epidemic' demands, are inevitably very tricky to deal with - much like rush-hour traffic jams.

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