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Nine out of 10 A&E doctors say patients are coming to harm in UK’s Emergency Departments

20th June 2024

More than 90% of A&E doctors who responded to a poll by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said patients are coming to harm due to the current crisis in the UK’s Emergency Departments.

The snap poll, conducted between Monday and Wednesday this week, asked heads of Emergency Departments a series of questions about the situation in their A&E focusing on overcrowding and the standard of care patients are receiving.

Emergency Departments across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were asked a short series of questions, as well as being able to add free text responses.

In total, representatives from 63 hospitals responded. They revealed that from Monday morning to Wednesday lunchtime this week:

  • More than nine out of 10 respondents (90.5%) felt patients were coming into harm in their department due to the quality of care that can be delivered under current conditions
  • 87% of respondents had patients being treated in corridors
  • 68% of respondents had patients waiting in ambulances outside their ED

Free text responses reveal more shocking details related to the pressure.

One respondent stated that they had a person who had waited more than 19 hours for an in-patient bed to become available after a decision was made to admit them. This meant in total that patient spent more than 25 hours in A&E.

The findings of the poll are included in an open letter that RCEM has sent to the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties highlighting its concern that none has made any specific manifesto promises related to addressing the current crisis in the Emergency Care system.

RCEM President Dr Adrian Boyle said: “These responses reveal the true and shameful reality of the state of Emergency Care in the UK. And the level of harm and risk our patients are being exposed to, as recently as yesterday.

“Last year the deaths of more than 250 people a week were associated with long waits in Emergency Departments – that’s equivalent of airplane full of people every seven days.

“And, as shocking as that is, even more shocking is that these deaths are entirely preventable if long waits before admission were addressed and eradicated.

“But as the political parties detail their plans and commitments ahead of the General Election, we have yet to see one specific policy in any manifesto aimed at tacking this scandalous and shameful situation. Seriously?

“The risk to patients’ lives is very real, it is very serious and is happening right now. People are dying, and all we have from those hoping to form the next government is a deafening silence on this issue, which really is a matter of life and death.

In the letter Dr Boyle describes the current situation as ‘nothing short of a national scandal’ highlighting the huge numbers of people waiting excessive amounts of time in A&E.

He references data which shows last year more than 1.5m people waited more than 12 hours in an ED, and of those almost 400,000 ended up spending more than 24 hours in the department.

He also highlighted that the people who end up waiting the longest are often some of society’s most vulnerable members – older people and those who need in-patient care.

The RCEM President then seeks an explicit commitment from the party leaders to work with the College to help resuscitate Emergency Care and prevent any more people from coming to unnecessary harm.

RCEM has published its own set of priorities which the next government should adopt in Resuscitate Emergency Care.

Notes to editors

The survey ran from 9am on Monday 17 June 2024 until 12pm on Wednesday 19 June 2024.

63 unique responses were received out of a possible total on 225. This represents a 28% response rate.

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