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Unacceptable is now the norm, says college president after latest emergency department figures released

Patients should write to their MP calling for action on the serious challenges facing emergency departments (EDs) across England, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) says

Patients should write to their MP calling for action on the serious challenges facing emergency departments (EDs) across England, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) says

  • NHS England figures reveal just 85% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged with four hours
  • Bed occupancy rates were at an average of 95% during February, above the 85% limit considered safe
  • At least 62,000 fewer NHS treatments were performed by consultants this winter, compared to last
Long waits
Long waits in emergency departments are just part of a burgeoning problem.
Picture: Alamy

RCEM took this unprecedented step after data released last week showed the worst ever four-hour emergency care performance at just 76.9% at major EDs.

Overall, just 85% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival in EDs in February, figures released by NHS England showed. The target of 95% has not been met since July 2015.

RCEM president Taj Hassan said: 'Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has now become normal and things are seemingly only getting worse for patients.'

Predictable crisis

This winter has seen the worst flu season since 2011, with 306 confirmed deaths according to Public Health England. Thousands of people have also been affected by norovirus, leading to hundreds of hospital beds being closed every day.

But Dr Hassan added: 'The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis.

'We need an adequate number of hospital beds, more resources for social care and to fund our staffing strategies, as previously agreed, to deliver decent basic dignified care. We would urge our patients to contact their MP to tell them this. We hope that action from patients will ensure that our politicians give the NHS the due care and attention it needs and help them come together to find appropriate long-term solutions that are so desperately required.'

'There will be worse to come'

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of healthcare charity the Nuffield Trust, added that the immense pressures seen this winter were fundamentally driven by a lack of money and staff.

'If these are not addressed it is inevitable that, as difficult as February has been for NHS staff and patients, there will be worse to come,' he warned.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said the figures show there is 'no more to give'.

'Safe staffing levels are key to patient safety, and immediate investment is required to train and retain staff,' she said.

'The warning signs are plain to see and ministers should be under no illusion that failure to act now could be catastrophic.'

Extended time in pain or discomfort

Experts expressed concern that bed occupancy rates were at an average of 95% during February, above the 85% limit considered safe.

The Royal College of Surgeons said at least 62,000 fewer NHS treatments, including surgical operations, were performed by consultants this winter compared to the previous winter.

In trauma and orthopaedics, there was an 8.4% fall in treatments. It said the 'necessary evil' of postponing all planned surgery in January to relieve pressure on EDs resulted in many patients not receiving treatment when they needed it, 'extending their time in pain or discomfort'.

NHS England: A&E Attendances and Emergency Admissions February 2018 Statistical Commentary


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