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RCEM launches campaign to resuscitate Emergency Care as polling reveals the public’s lack of confidence in UK government’s policies to tackle the crisis

27 January 2023

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine today outlines five priorities for UK governments to tackle the crisis in Emergency Care, after polling carried out by Ipsos on behalf of the College found 59% of respondents expressed a lack of confidence that the UK Government have the right policies to tackle long patient waiting times in A&E departments in hospitals.

The campaign launches amid the worst Emergency Care crisis on record, as reflected in A&E performance figures across all four-nations.

Five Priorities for UK Governments to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare lays out what UK governments must focus on to tackle the crisis, improve patient care, retain staff, and prevent harm. The five priorities are:

  1. Eradicate overcrowding and corridor care for patients
  2. Provide the UK with the Emergency Medicine workforce it needs to deliver safe care
  3. Ensure our NHS can provide equitable care to emergency patients
  4. Focus on evidence-based interventions to tackle overcrowding
  5. Introduce meaningful and transparent metrics to facilitate performance and better outcomes for patients

More patients than ever before across the UK are facing long and dangerous waits. It has been widely reported that crowding, corridor care and long waiting times for patients in Emergency Departments are associated with patient harm and patient deaths.

The public are acutely aware of the issues and pressures in A&E departments, with an Ipsos poll, commissioned by the College, showing that:

  • nearly half of those polled by Ipsos expressed that they did not feel confident they would be treated in an appropriate area if they personally had a medical emergency in the next week that required them to attend their local A&E.
  • meanwhile, two-thirds did not feel confident that a hospital bed would be available if they personally had a medical emergency in the next week and needed to be admitted to hospital.

Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“There can be no denying it; the Emergency Care system is failing and not functioning as it should. We can argue about numbers and calculations of excess deaths or we can work together and take the urgent and necessary action to prevent any further harm or deaths occurring. Patients and staff are rightly concerned, they deserve to see honesty and meaningful action from our political and health leaders. This is our plan to tackle the crisis.

“The roots of the problem lie in the lack of adequate capacity in hospitals, lack of staff, and lack of social care in the community. Since 2010, more than 29,000 beds have been removed from the system despite the increasing complexity of population healthcare needs. While for many years, social care has faced devastating cuts, meaning patients medically ready to leave hospital do not have the support they need to leave – so they reside in hospital for longer than they should preventing others from being admitted. The inability to discharge patients and the inability to admit patients is causing severe exit block – our hospitals are completely gridlocked, meaning Emergency Departments are becoming dangerously crowded and patients are facing extremely long waits.

“These delays and crowding impact heavily on the existing workforce, which has been stretched to its limit for too long. There are significant shortfalls of staff in Emergency Medicine; Emergency Departments across the UK are not safely staffed and the public recognise that.”

Polling shows that:

  • just 18% of respondents surveyed agreed their local A&E had enough staff to care for them in a timely way
  • while just 23% expressed agreement that their local A&E had enough staff to care for patients in a safe way.

Dr Boyle said: “Clinicians are doing all they can and what they can to bridge the gap between an under-resourced system and the quality of care patients require, but it’s plain as day to anyone that we have too few staff.

“We are in a dire place right now, but it is fixable. We know what needs to be done to tackle the crisis and improve patient care, but this requires sustained and continued cross-party political willingness and investment to engage with the issue and tackle it root and branch.

“Our campaign to resuscitate Emergency Care shows the way forward for governments, with five key priorities to address. The first priority must be on improving flow through our hospitals to end corridor care and overcrowding. UK governments must open more staffed beds, where safely possible, and run hospitals at no more than 85% bed occupancy. In tandem with this, UK governments have been right to invest in community and social care but this can no longer be short-term; we need sustained expansion, resource and funding for social care to ensure patients are discharged safely and promptly when their medical care is complete.

“There must also be recognition of the impact of the crisis on the workforce, they do excellent work, but they cannot continue to flirt with burnout or this will lead to burn away. UK governments must urgently work to retain our highly-skilled frontline clinicians – but they must feel supported, listened to and valued.

“Lastly, performance is at an all-time low and metrics are currently documenting a failing service. Together with the expansion of capacity and resourcing of social care, we must see a renewed effort to improve performance and meet the four-hour waiting time target in Emergency Departments. We cannot afford to be in a performance vacuum any longer, metrics must have meaning and drive improvement and better patient care. In England, this must start with monthly publication of 12-hour waits from the time a patient arrives – as it is in the rest of the UK – rather than the misleading and dishonest current metric which measures 12-hours from the time a decision to admit a patient is made.”

Notes to editor

RCEM: Five Priorities for UK Governments to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare

RCEM: Public Polling on Emergency Healthcare

Polling methodology

In December 2022, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) commissioned Ipsos Mori to conduct an online poll of adults aged 16-75 in the UK public to better understand their views on emergency care.

Fieldwork was carried out between 9th December 2022 – 12th December 2022. Ipsos interviewed a representative quota sample of 2,219 adults aged 16-75 across the UK. Data has been weighted to known offline population proportions. This work was carried out in accordance with the requirements of the international quality standard for market research, ISO 20252 and with the Ipsos Terms and Conditions.

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