Statistics released by NHS England have revealed that the target of seeing 95% of patients within four hours has not been hit by any A&E department at a major hospital since July 2013. In June this year, A&E departments saw 90.5% of patients within four hours, compared to 94.8% in the same month in 2015.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine says the workforce is not growing fast enough to keep pace with rising numbers of patients. This warning comes as an A&E in the East Midlands announced it may have to temporarily close its doors at night owing to a national shortage of emergency doctors. United Lincolnshire Hospital NHS Trust (ULHT) said that a ‘crisis point’ had been reached and patients’ lives could be put at risk if action was not taken at Grantham and District Hospital. Management at ULHT is looking to reduce A&E hours because the department is facing a severe shortage of doctors.
June also saw an increasing number of patients attending A&E in England, with 1,950,754 people treated in hospitals across the country. It marks the highest number of patients attending A&E in the month of June since current records began in August 2010 and is a 2.1 per cent increase on June 2015.
Hospitals across the country have been blighted by disrupted services in the wake of funding cuts. St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group caused outcry after suggesting financial demands could lead it to ban all non-vital operations for four months while Chorley Hospital in Lancashire was forced to downgrade its A&E in June to an urgent care centre because it did not have enough medics.
Shortages of doctors and nurses have come into sharp focus at other hospitals recently. The chief executive of crisis-hit North Middlesex Hospital left her post after NHS inspectors found its A&E unit was risking patients’ health by forcing them to endure ‘excessive’ waits to see a doctor, it emerged last month. Julie Lowe was replaced on an interim basis by a senior executive from another London hospital in the wake of a scathing report by the Care Quality Commission into multiple patient safety failings at the North Middlesex. The NHS care regulator’s inspectors found that shortages of doctors and nurses in A&E were so acute, and the unit so busy, that untrained receptionists were judging which patients needed medical attention first. It is one of the busiest A&Es in London, treating 500 patients a day.
The Department of Health said that despite shortages in specific A&Es, there were 1,250 extra doctors working in emergency departments compared with 2010. A spokesman commented: “The NHS had its busiest June ever, but hospitals are performing well with nine out of 10 people seen in A&E within four hours - almost 60,000 people per day seen within the standard. We are committed to delivering a safer seven-day NHS which is why we have invested £10 billion to fund the NHS's own plan to transform services in the future.”
Rebecca Morgan, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “We regularly act for patients who have suffered as a result of a delay in A&E departments. These figures are very clear evidence of a system facing both increasing patient numbers and severe financial strain. We can only hope that the money invested into the NHS can ensure A&E targets are met to ensure patient safety in the future.”