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RCEM responds to Channel 4 Dispatches ‘Undercover A&E’ programme

24 June 2024

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has described undercover footage filmed in a hospital A&E department as ‘shocking but not isolated’.

The covert filming formed part of an investigation undertaken by Channel Four’s Dispatches programme into the current pressures being experienced in Emergency Departments in England.

An undercover reporter was employed at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Emergency Department as a trainee health care assistant.

Over a period of two months earlier this year the reporter secretly filmed within the department.

The shocking footage shows people waiting extreme lengths of time to be admitted, people in obvious pain being cared for in corridors, and one patient being forced to urinate in a public area due to a lack of private space, and other issues related to apparent poor standards of patient care.

RCEM, was invited to take part in the programme and to comment on the issues highlighted in the footage. The College was not involved in any element of the covert filming itself and was not aware of it until after it had been recorded.

RCEM President, Dr Adrian Boyle, who is featured in the programme, said: “Although we do not condone secret filming, especially in a sensitive health care setting, this footage does provide the public and the politicians who have the power to address it, with a rare insight into the extreme pressures being experienced in Emergency Departments up and down the country.

“What it shows is shocking – and it is right we are shocked. It is difficult and harrowing to watch and it will be for anyone, especially the patients and their families. My heart goes out to everyone affected.

“But it is not unique to this hospital. Overcrowding, patients being treated in corridors and cupboards, the inability to admit people, staff so stretched that things are getting missed, standards dropping – this is not how any clinician or healthcare professional wants to work.

“This is not the fault of the staff or this individual hospital. This is the result of systemic failures, caused by lack of adequate resourcing our health care system over years.

“As a result, patients are put at risk, and the clinicians who want to provide the best care possible to them, are simply not able to.

“This programme should shock and galvanise those who will form the next Government into urgent action.

“The system is failing, but it is not beyond resuscitation. RCEM is ready to work with the next Government to get on with fixing our NHS so that we never again see a situation like the one shown in this programme. Our clinicians deserve better, but even more importantly our patients and their families deserve better.”

The programme also reveals details of:
• A Freedom of Information request by Dispatches to NHS England which found almost 400,000 patients waited in A&E for more than 24 hours in the 12 months from April 2023 to March 2024
• This included 54,000 who spent more than 48 hours in A&E and almost 19,000 who were there for 72 hours
• The numbers waiting 24 hours were five percent higher than for the same period last year – and the numbers waiting 48 and 72 hours are also substantially higher.

RCEM has previously highlighted the number of excess deaths linked to long waits in Emergency Departments.

Channel Four Dispatches – Undercover A&E: NHS in Crisis will be shown at 9pm on Monday 24 June 2024. It will be followed by a special one-off debate: NHS IN CRISIS? THE DEBATE which RCEM President Dr Boyle will take part in.

Healthcare is one of the most pressing issues in this summer’s general election and the discussion will examine the political parties’ plans for the NHS, and will feature testimony from those who work in and use the health service.

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