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Understaffing hitting emergency wards


Hospitals are “struggling to cope” with an increasing demand for emergency care because of limited numbers of staff and beds, a leading casualty doctor has warned.

John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said the pressures faced by casualty departments meant they were often busy firefighting.

He told the Guardian: “The emergency care system is struggling to cope at the moment.

“Many departments spend their time firefighting because of the number of patients coming in, the limited number of emergency department staff and limited availability of beds.”

His comments came as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than four hours in A&E had jumped 65% since the government scrapped a target.

Mr Heyworth said the figures indicated an “increasing mismatch” between rising demand, “woefully inadequate” numbers of emergency medicine consultants, and limited bed capacity for emergency patients.

He said Britain still has a “very fragile system of A&E care” even though demand had gone up by between 4% and 7% a year in recent years.

“We are now seeing more of everything: more and more patients every year with a wide variety of medical problems, all of which require A&E staff’s expertise,” he said.

Among those needing emergency care were more elderly people, children, patients with chest pains and people with breathing conditions, Mr Heyworth said.

“The vast majority of patients who come to A&E really need to be here. They aren’t wasting our time,” he added.

Last June, health secretary Andrew Lansley relaxed a four-hour A&E target which has since been scrapped and replaced with a new set of quality indicators.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Some but not all of the problems faced by our ED's have been caused by the misinterpretation of the new CQI's. If you do not work in the ED and are reading this, the 4 hour standard is still there!! Its written in different words but it still exists, so please help us expedite our patients efficiently to your recieving area. We are literally drowning.

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  • i have just finished a 12 hour shift on the ward and i could have cried. we have been short staffed with 2 staff down today and yesterday . i have been working in a bay on my own trying to look after 7 dependent patients and discharge 1 of them by 10 this morning whilst trying to do my drug round patients asking for commodes and bedpans and feeding 3 patients. i heard through the grape vine that the A&E was heaving with patients lined up in trolleys in the corridors. i finally recieved a patient on the ward at 2pm this afternoon after she was admitted at 2 o'clock this morning.A&Es across the country are probably experiencing the same influx. they cannot cope with the increase and demand that is put upon them,but we have the same pressures on the wards. these are people we are dealing with not a number. management have no idea what goes on the wards they are only interested in keeping within the budget.

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  • I have been a staff nurse in my local A&E department for the last eleven years. Signed off sick by my GP since January with severe depression, due to work-related stress. A&E understaffed, lack of apropriate eqipment and management being the main reason. Still don't know when/if I get back to my job, waiting for medication to kick in... ...

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  • Strutural violence,

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  • At a rough gestimate a third of patients don't need to be there - IF G.P.s were doing there jobs properly.

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  • I recently rang my GP's for an appointment and was told to go to A & E as they were fully booked! and the GP's are going to hold the purse strings!!!

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