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RCEM calls for system-wide action, as shocking report shows extent of harm to patients

15 November 2021

Responding to the latest report ‘Delayed hospital handovers: Impact assessment of patient harm’ published today by the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, Dr Katherine Henderson, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“This report makes for stark reading but will come as no surprise to Emergency Department staff. Patients should never be delayed in the backs of ambulances. Patient safety is being compromised. When there is simultaneously no space in the Emergency Department and ambulances queuing outside the Emergency Department, we are no longer delivering effective urgent and emergency care to the community.

“We support our paramedic colleagues and will continue to work with them to tackle these handover delays and keep patients safe. But these pressures must not be addressed in isolation. The answer does not lie with the ambulance services nor in the Emergency Department. This is a system-wide problem that requires system-wide action and solutions. In particular, the answer is not just to increase physical space in the Emergency department with no additional staff.

“Trusts and Boards must focus on increasing flow throughout the hospital to reduce exit block and ensure patients are moved through the system. In the immediate term, Trusts and Boards must safely expand capacity throughout the hospital where possible to stop patients being delayed in ambulances. Social care must be resourced to ensure patients can be discharged when they have completed their treatment to prevent long hospital stays.

“We entered the pandemic with too few beds in the system and have continually struggled to manage with reduced capacity, now this is unsustainable. It is vital that the government restore bed capacity to pre-pandemic levels to achieve a desirable ratio of emergency admissions to beds. Currently 7,170 beds are required across UK Trusts and Boards.

“Patient safety is at risk and without urgent action avoidable harm will continue to fall upon patients while urgent and emergency care will fall deeper into crisis.”


Notes to Editor

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