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It’s like Groundhog Day – A year on the UEC Plan has made little or no significant difference in our A&Es

30 January 2024

On the anniversary of the publication of NHS England and the Government’s Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan the Royal College of Emergency Medicine says it has had little or no positive impact and, despite the best efforts of NHS staff, the UEC system remains in permacrisis.

The UEC recovery plan was published on 30 January 2023 following the worst winter crisis Emergency Care has ever experienced.

However, 12 months on, data shows the measures have had little positive effect in A&E with clinical leaders from around England saying things are as unsafe, or more unsafe, than at this time last year.

Last week it was announced that the target of increasing core hospital beds by 5,000 by ‘this winter’ had been achieved.

But the latest bed occupancy figures show that our hospitals are still full – with occupancy rates continuing to run dangerously high at almost 95% (the ‘safe’ level is considered to be 85%) and that thousands of people remain in hospital when they don’t need to be, through no fault of their own, because there are no alternatives for them.

RCEM Vice President Dr Ian Higginson said: “When the plan was published, we stressed that it didn’t go far enough.

“Whilst we welcome the apparent uplift in core bed numbers, those beds are already full as we knew they would be.

“Although it’s important to recognise the efforts of hospital teams and NHS staff, overstating the effect of half-baked plans that have made little real difference to the experience of patients and the working conditions of health care professionals, doesn’t sit right.

“The weekly sit reps continue to show we are in the middle of another extremely challenging winter. But let’s be clear, the challenges don’t go away in summer either.

“Groundhog Day is this week. Which is about predicting the end of winter – although it has also come to be associated with the same thing repeating itself – which is very fitting.

“For patients and staff in the NHS it feels like it’s always winter, and we are tired of seeing the same out-of-touch narrative coming year on year.

“What we need to end the scourge of overcrowding in our Emergency Departments is a meaningful, long term, strategy coupled with investment.

“Only then will the shameful, undignified and dangerous crowding we are experiencing across the county end, and patients will be able to receive the treatment they deserve, and our members want to provide.”

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