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Older people being forced to wait more than five days in A&E described as ‘a national shame’ by Royal College of Emergency Medicine

26 April 2024

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has described data which reveals that some elderly patients waited more than five days in A&E before being admitted as a ‘national shame’.

The new figures, obtained by the Liberal Democrats via a Freedom of Information Act request, show that last year almost 100,000 elderly people in England waited 12 hours or more in Emergency Departments after the decision was made that they needed to be admitted for further care. This is a 25-fold increase for this age group (65 and over) since 2019.

Of the 145,800 patients reported by the 48 English Trusts who responded as facing 12-hour waits of this type last year more than two thirds were aged 65 or more.

The figures also show that elderly patients are facing longer average pre-admission waits – which are also referred to as ‘trolley waits’ – with an average length of stay in A&E of seven hours in 2023 for older people, compared to six hours for all patients.

The longest reported wait for a person aged over 65 before being admitted as an in-patient was a staggering five-and-a-half days.

RCEM’s has highlighted the serious risk that long A&E waits can have on people – especially older patients, with analysis showing that in 2023 there were more than 250 deaths a week associated with extended waits in Emergency Department.

Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We thank the Liberal Democrats for highlighting this vitally important issue. The data they have obtained, which represents more than a third of English trusts, is quite frankly shocking and shameful.

“As a clinician, but also as a son of ageing parents, it is simply heart-breaking to think of older people having to wait days in busy and crowded Emergency Departments for an in-patient bed to become available.

“And I must stress this is not just a matter of inconvenience or discomfort; long waits, particularly those experienced by older people, are dangerous and can even be life threatening. Our own research shows that there were more than 250 deaths a week last year (2023) associated with long A&E waits for patients waiting for admission.

“These figures are a clear indicator of a health service in crisis, and why the next Government must pledge to Resuscitate Emergency Care and stop this national shame.”

The Liberal Democrats received responses from 48 of 140 NHS hospital trusts.

RCEM’s explainer about how long A&E waits are associated with excess mortality can be found here.

Read more about what can be done to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare in RCEM’s General Election Manifesto.

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