Year-round pressure ‘the new normal’ in NHS

RCN highlights unprecedented burden in recent months and concern over lack of capacity 

Dealing with high demand in A&E is ‘the new normal’ all year round, the RCN has said.

The effects of increasing financial constraints and patient demand in English hospitals are most obvious in A&E departments, the college said in a statement about the unrelenting pressures many hospitals are facing.

It said A&E departments and hospitals are increasingly experiencing major incidents, highlighting Ashford and St Peters Hospitals in Surrey, which saw 360 patients per day in June, and Southend University Hospital in Essex, where operations were cancelled in May because no beds were available.

Reports of beds being placed in corridors or patients being treated in ambulances while waiting to be admitted to A&E were also highlighted as examples of the strain hospitals are under.

The RCN said this has raised concern about the consequences of the lack of spare capacity.

‘A powderkeg’

RCN Eastern region director Karen Webb said the A&E crisis was ‘a powderkeg’.

‘Sometimes we have 20 ambulances backed up outside the emergency department and nursing staff have to go out and triage patients,’ she said.

RCN Emergency Care Association chair and nurse consultant Janet Youd added that nurses were leaving the specialty in numbers not seen before. 

‘Emergency departments have agency staff but they are not necessarily emergency nurses with the right skills.

‘We’ve had patients waiting for hours in the past, but then at least they got the care they needed. Now sometimes they do not,’ she said.

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