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Extensive A&E wait times are ‘needlessly’ killing patients, report shows

Research by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) suggests more than 250 patients may have died in England last year due to stretched emergency services.

The study, which was published yesterday, outlined that patients are coming into harm as a result of spending hours in emergency departments, even though a decision has already been made to admit them to a hospital ward.

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To conduct their research, RCEM submitted freedom of information requests which discovered that 65% of people left in A&E for 12 hours or more were waiting for a bed, equating to more than one million patients over 12 months.

Against this backdrop, experts have previously found that there is one excess death for every 72 patients who spent eight to 12 hours in an A&E department.

According to RCEM, an average of 268 extra deaths had occurred each week in 2023 because of long delays, totalling almost 14,000 excess deaths.

As well as the number of people dying, the length of wait times are also a cause for severe concern. When the government set the NHS recovery plan for Match, 76% of patients were supposed to be admitted, transferred, or discharged within four hours. However, figures from last month have revealed that just 70.9% of patients were seen within this time frame.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the RCEM, said: ‘Excessively long waits continue to put patients at risk of serious harm.

‘Lack of hospital capacity means that patients are staying longer than necessary and continue to be cared for by emergency department staff, often in clinically inappropriate areas such as corridors or ambulances.’

‘The direct correlation between delays and morality rates is clear,’ Dr Boyle claimed. ‘Patients are being subjected to avoidable harm.’

Dr Boyle added: ‘Urgent intervention is needed to put people first. Patients and staff should not bear the consequences of insufficient funding and under-resourcing. We cannot continue to face inequalities in care, avoidable delays and death.’

In addition to mounting winter pressures and the aftermath of Covid-19, dire staff levels are contributing to the current lengthy A&E wait times in the UK. According to the British Medical Association, at the end of 2023, there were 110,781 vacancies in secondary care in England. Of these, 8,758 vacancies were medical, amounting to 5.7% of all medical posts. This figure is similar to the one seen a year ago (5.9%), suggesting that now, more than ever, the staffing crisis must be addressed.

Perhaps England should follow in Scotland’s footsteps as the First Minister has recently announced that the first instalment of £300m will be given to reduce wait times. The plan, unveiled by Humza Yousaf, will hopefully see the full £300m distributed over the next three years. 

Image: sasint

More on this topic:

Long A&E wait times could become normalised, new research shows

Study suggests A&E staff give lower priority to patients from deprived areas

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