A recent investigation by the Daily Telegraph newspaper has exposed that the number of hospitals recently admitting to delays in A&E of 20 hours or more has doubled in just a year. Some patients are waiting in A&E for up to two days due to the growing NHS beds crisis.
Figures indicate that during the winter, a third of NHS Trusts experienced waits of at least 20 hours – with some unfortunate patients having to wait in A&E for as much as 46 hours.
During the previous year, only one out of every six trusts recorded waits in A&E of more than 20 hours, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Responding to the report, charities said the figures were “extraordinary” and “alarming”, and claimed they were evidence that hospitals were now routinely running out of capacity for new admissions as they became overcrowded.
“Bed-blocking”, a term which the NHS itself does not like to use, also reached record levels this winter. Rising numbers of elderly or vulnerable patients were being left in hospital due to a lack of assistance and social services support to allow them to go home.
The latest figures show that occupancy rates hit an all-time high in the last quarter of 2014, at 89.5%.
In order to reduce infection rates the recommended maximum occupancy is 85%, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas some hospitals reached levels of 99.5%. Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, has reacted strongly, describing the numbers as “astounding and horrifying”.
According to the investigation by the Telegraph, all Trusts in England who operated a large A&E department were requested to provide details of how long people stayed in A&E over the last two winters.
Several Trusts refused to supply figures, saying it could compromise patient confidentiality. 45 Trusts did supply figures spanning both winters. 41 of those showed A&E stays of over 12 hours, and 16 admitted to patients being kept in A&E for 20 hours or more.
East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust was the organisation which admitted to the longest stay of 45 hours and 59 minutes, which was experienced by a patient suffering from mental health difficulties and who was eventually admitted to a different ward.
Across the country, the figures show a deteriorating picture. Last winter, 80% of trusts which provided figures said that they had experienced A&E delays of 12 hours of more. In the previous year, this figure was only 71%, and in 2009/10 only 64%.
A&E performance is measured by the percentage of patients who are treated in under four hours in a system set up by the last Labour government. The latest prove that the full target of achieving this standard in 95% of cases has not been hit in a year.
Only 91.8% of patients were seen in the four hour window between January and March, which was the worst quarterly performance since first measurements in 2004.
NHS Trusts are also required to issue figures to central management about the number of patients waiting in A&E for over 4 and over 12 hours after doctors have decided to admit them. However, there is no requirement to report on patients after 12 hours has passed, leading to worries that these patients are considered lower priority.
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