The College of Emergency Medicine has published a report following a survey of over 1,000 A&E consultants who answered questions about their workload. The report makes clear that increased patient demand and the rising burden on A&E departments are combining to put patients at greater risk.
Given recent news reports, it may be unsurprising that the results paint a picture of ‘intolerable pressure’ and unsustainable workloads but the extent is alarming. Of the consultants surveyed, 94% replied that they regularly work longer hours to cope with demand. Over 60% reported a workload that has increased to an unsustainable level. So great are the pressures that doctors who trained in the UK are choosing to leave and to apply their skills overseas instead. In 2009 just two A&E consultants left the UK to work overseas while 21 emigrated between January and August this year.
A separate report last week concluded that waiting times in A&E are rising. The target is for 95% of patients to be seen within four hours in A&E but figures from NHS England show that the number of hospitals missing that target has more than trebled in the last 12 months.
Andrew Clayton, associate in Penningtons' clinical negligence team, commented: "Nobody can fail to be aware of the pressure currently facing our A&E departments and the attention this has received over recent months. This fits with our experience of increasing numbers of people seeking to bring claims relating to missed or delayed diagnosis in A&E departments. The report emphasises the need for more to be done – and urgently – to protect patients. We are particularly concerned that this problem could rapidly spiral. As the workload and demands on A&E staff increase, fewer find this an attractive field in which to work. The risk is that staff numbers will then fall, increasing the pressure further still.
"The Government announced a further £500 million last month to help those hospitals likely to struggle most over the next two years. With rising patient demand, staff unable to sustain their current workloads and concerns that too few clinicians are choosing to work in our A&E departments, it is hard to see how this additional funding alone can address the current problems. Urgent action is needed to prevent patients being exposed to increasing risks of unacceptable care with potentially devastating results."