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It was with concern, but unfortunately perhaps not too much surprise, that I recently read the BBC article commenting on the fact that more than one in ten patients in England face long delays for a hospital bed after an emergency admission.
The BBC investigation and analysis of NHS figures shows that nearly 475,000 patients waited for more than 4 hours for a bed on a ward between 2015/2016 which represents an almost five-fold increase since 2010/2011.
The definition given by the BBC article of an emergency admission is a patient who has been seen in A&E and whose condition is deemed to be so serious that they need to be admitted onto ward.
About one in five people who attend A&E fall into this category which includes frail and elderly patients as well as those patients suffering with chest pains, breathing problems and fractures.
These delays are colloquially referred to as ‘trolley wait’ within the NHS itself although not all patients will find themselves actually on a trolley. Hospitals are being forced to use all sorts of areas including side rooms, seats in the A&E departments and spare cubicles simply depending on what is available at the time.
Dr Chris Moulton of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine was quoted by the BBC as saying:
Patients who are delayed like this are still being monitored by staff but we know that the overcrowding we are seeing is dangerous. It leads to worse outcomes for patients, higher infection rates, patients ending up on the wrong wards and generally a negative experience.
It is the suggestion that delays lead to worse outcomes for patients which causes me the most concern. I have frequently written about my concern with delays, particularly for patients who are vulnerable and who require emergency admissions, as a matter of hours and sometimes even minutes can mean the difference between potentially achieving a full or almost full recovery and sustaining a life-changing and permanent disability.
I understand that overcrowding in the NHS is an increasingly difficult problem but my worry is that the problem is not being adequately addressed and it is patients who are suffering as a result.
I am sure that no medical professional deliberately sets out to cause permanent harm to a patient but, by allowing such delays to exist, the NHS as a whole is preventing patients from accessing the necessary care and treatment required in a timely manner with the result that some patients suffer significant and permanent injuries which could otherwise have been avoided. It is important to me that the NHS is accountable to those individuals who have put their faith in the system but have been let down and suffered serious harm as a result.
Hannah Bottomley is a clinical negligence solicitor with PotterReesDolan. Should you have any queries about clinical negligence issues or indeed any other aspect of this article and wish to speak to Hannah or any other member of the team please contact us on 0161 237 5888 or email Hannah.