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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