Here A&E Nurse, Mark Boothroyd explains why it’s vital we make the Winter Crisis Day of Action a success:
As winter takes hold, A&E staff around the country are bracing for the worst time of their lives. Across the country, A&E departments are recording their worst statistics ever. No A&E department in the country has met its 4-hour wait target. Even the best A&Es in the country struggle to see more than 85% of their patients within this time.
Other statistics tell an even bleaker picture. In September almost 60,000 patients waited in A&E over 12 hours before being admitted to a hospital bed. In comparison, in September 2010 the figure for those waiting over 12 hours was only 5000. Lack of beds in A&E leave patients waiting in ambulances for hours, and hospital staff having to begin triaging and treating them outside the hospital. Ambulances are stuck waiting at hospitals, and can’t leave to respond to other emergencies.
These figures only capture a tiny aspect of what is happening to patients and staff. Behind every wait is a human story of anxiety, suffering, increased risk for the patient and stress for clinical staff.
Whether its a patient with chest pain who can’t be put on cardiac monitoring because all the cubicles with a monitors are full, a delay in administering analgesia to a patient in pain, or the patient with sepsis who deteriorates as their treatment is delayed for hours while they wait to be triaged, untold injury is done to patients due to lack of space and staff in A&E.
The yearly winter crisis isn’t down to the weather. It is a consequence of ten years of underinvestment in the NHS and social care. NHS England has closed 20% of A&E capacity since 2010, while 17,000 hospital beds have been cut over the same time, leaving the NHS only 127,225 beds to serve the population of 68 million. Social care spending has been cut, meaning patients can’t get the packages of care needed for discharge, and many suffer readmission because the level of care they need isn’t funded. Patients needing psychiatric admission have to wait days in medical beds to be admitted to a psychiatric bed, and many have to be sent hundreds of miles away as there are no beds in their area.
This traps patients in hospital beds and prevents new patients being admitted from A&E, blocking up the service, making A&Es unsafe for patients and leading to the dangerous waits and unnecessary suffering across the NHS.
Some hospitals are now forced to redeploy nurses to care for patients in corridors. Overcrowding forces some ward staff to spend part of shift looking after patients without a bed as reported in the Guardian,
Hospitals are having to redeploy nurses from wards to look after queues of patients in corridors, in a growing trend that has raised concerns about patient safety. Many hospitals have become so overcrowded that they are being forced to tell nurses to spend part of their shift working as “corridor nurses” to look after patients who are waiting for a bed. Nurses, doctors and hospital bosses have all voiced unease about the practice, which has risen sharply in recent weeks as the NHS has struggled to cope with the extra pressures of winter.
The government knows full well the scale of the crisis, NHS England has the figures for every A&E department and hospital, they can easily identify those needing more investment and support, but there is no political will from the government to solve the crisis. Money could be allocated to reopen acute and psychiatric beds, and recruit staff, and council social care budgets could be expanded, but the government remains reluctant to invest, despite the suffering ten years of austerity has caused.
The root cause of this is that the Conservative government is opposed to the idea of planning healthcare based on human need, and allocating resources accordingly. The NHS has all the data it needs to know where and how to invest money to avert the winter crises, but this would require a government willing to do that. Instead, the Conservatives allow NHS trusts to muddle through on their own, with inadequate resources, while patients and staff pay the price for their inaction.
Without urgent action, A&Es across the country will remain overburdened and unsafe for patients. NHS workers need to take action to force the government to give us the resources we need for our patients.
That’s why Keep Our NHS Public and others have called a Winter Crisis Day of Action on Saturday 15 February, in order bring attention to the extent of the crisis, but also lay the blame where it belongs, at the feet of this Conservative Government.