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Emergency care crisis putting patients at risk as they face longest waits on record

Dr Ian Higginson, Vice President of The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“Once again Emergency Departments have recorded the worst performance on record, the worst four-hour performance and the highest number of 12-hour waits. Patients are waiting for increasingly long periods for an ambulance, in the back of an ambulance and in crowded Emergency Departments. We know that long waits in Emergency Departments can lead to associated harm and even death. Recent solutions have only attempted to tackle symptoms of wider, long-term problems rather than treat the underlying cause – the core problem of exit block.

“There have been reports this week that medics have been moved from tackling the elective care backlog to tackling the crisis in emergency care. We have previously expressed concerns that the elective care recovery plan is isolationist, and that a failure to address emergency care will simply derail elective care. Elective care and emergency care are inextricably linked and equally important, it is right to tackle the elective care backlog but this must be tackled in tandem with emergency care.

“There are severe delays throughout the health system, exacerbated by widespread staff shortages and a shortfall of 10,000 beds. Added to these, the crisis in social care – an underpaid and understaffed workforce – is leading to elderly and vulnerable patients remaining in hospital for longer than medically necessary. While there is an attempt to improve delayed discharges by NHS England, bed occupancy in hospitals is still high; full hospitals cannot function efficiently. Without the expansion of social care provision, elderly and vulnerable patients will continue to occupy hospital beds that could be used by emergency or elective care patients.

“The government must take action to address the lamentable performance and patient harm in emergency care. The government must publish an urgent and emergency care recovery plan as well as take meaningful action to tackle the social care crisis. It is also critical that the government publish a fully funded long-term NHS workforce plan and open 10,000 beds across the UK.”

Commenting on the upcoming Easter Bank Holiday weekend, public health and infection prevention control measures, Dr Higginson continued:

“Emergency Departments are in a critical situation, covid remains rife with covid-related staff absences sweeping across the UK. We know crowded Emergency Departments are a high-risk space for covid infection, particularly for the vulnerable and elderly.

“We cannot risk removing infection prevention control measures in Emergency Departments or hospitals; mask-wearing and social distancing must continue to the best of staff’s ability in order to protect patients.

“The NHS is facing a deepening crisis, to limit the spread of covid in the community and to limit pressures on Emergency Departments public health measures are our best defence. With the upcoming bank holiday weekend and the improving weather if people are attending parties, gatherings, or ‘work events’ we would urge prudence and caution – wear a mask, wash your hands to protect yourself, the elderly and the vulnerable.”