So-called ‘corridor care’ is an uncomfortable reality in hospitals

Overcrowding in emergency departments is forcing nurses to look after patients in non-clinical areas, but there are ways to minimise the risks to patient safety

Older woman lies in bed in corridor of emergency department
Picture: iStock

In an ideal world every person who presents to an emergency department (ED) requiring admission would be assessed and given a bed, in their own bay or on a ward, within four hours.

But we do not live in an ideal world, and the reality is that EDs face increasing pressure from population growth and the increasing burden of disease resulting from a progressively aging and frail population.

Patients frequently attend for emergency care at a late stage in their illness because they have not been able to access the care they need in the community, be it from their GP practices or social care.

Winter pressures starting to bite in September

Some EDs started reporting in early September that the historic additional winter-related demands had already started to bite with hospitals forced to declare alerts as ambulances queued outside unable to hand over patients.

Overcrowding in the ED is now a universal problem, and one that has been associated with suboptimal patient outcomes. It often results in nursing care being delivered in areas not designated for clinical care, posing challenges to nursing staff and affecting patient safety.

The only option for overwhelmed emergency departments

Earlier this year, 72% of the 560 respondents to a survey of members by the RCN’s Emergency Care Association said they delivered care in a non-designated clinical area at least once a day, and almost all agreed this compromised the safety and efficacy of care.

But until there are system-level changes, and the government invests more money in creating additional hospital beds and better social care facilities, so-called corridor care is the only option for overwhelmed EDs.

Some trusts are addressing this by allocating ‘corridor nurses’ during periods of high demand to allow patients to be handed over by ambulance crews, while others only allocate patients who have already received clinical care from the ED and are waiting for an in-patient bed to non-designated clinical areas.

For nurses, it is about how to ensure that corridor care is as safe as possible for patients when we know there is a direct link between the practice and harm.

In his CPD article ‘Corridor care’ in the emergency department: managing patient care in non-clinical areas safely and efficiently, Christopher Williams describes practical steps that can be taken at individual and departmental level to mitigate against the risks of nursing in non-clinical areas, as well as opportunities for nurses to enhance safety and efficiency in overcrowded EDs.

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Further information

RCN (2023) Corridor Care: Survey Results

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