Patients ‘dying in corridors’ as winter pressures overwhelm NHS

Doctors have warned that patients have been left dying in hospital corridors as the NHS struggles to cope with winter pressures.

Only three out of 133 hospital trusts in England for which figures are available managed to meet the government’s A&E target of 95% of patients treated within four hours, according to December statistics from NHS England.

Overall, 85% of patients across the country were treated within the four-hour deadline, according to the figures.

With hospitals in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland also struggling, doctors warned in a letter to the prime minister and published by Health Service Journal, that conditions on wards are “intolerable”.

Patients are waiting for up to 12 hours, with hundreds managed in corridors, sometimes dying prematurely, according to the letter.

The NHS is underfunded and does not have enough beds, and medical and nursing staff, to cope with the increased pressure, according to the letter.

With a spike in the number of flu cases reported by GPs, it looks like the pressure will continue further into the new year.

Following a similar crisis last year, there were fresh calls for the government to make more money available to the NHS.

The doctors said in the letter: “The facts remain however that the NHS is severely and chronically underfunded. We have insufficient hospital and community beds and staff of all disciplines, especially at the front door, to cope with out ageing populations’s health needs.”

The chancellor Philip Hammond gave an extra £350 million to the NHS in his autumn budget, but this has clearly not been enough to resolve the structural issues that are causing the problems.

Nicola Burgess, who researches patient safety and management in the NHS at Warwick Business School, said there were long-standing problems caused by poor integration with community care.

Delays discharging patients meant hospitals lacked the capacity to cope with a surge in demand for A&E services, said Burgess.

“When we see problems in A&E of this proportion, we need to focus our attention on treating the ‘wider system’. This means better service integration across the NHS and improved accessibility of community care, working in partnership with ‘frontline’ care providers to ensure a steady flow of patients out of hospital in a manner that safeguards, and arguably enhances, the quality of care the NHS can offer.”

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s council, said: “Doctors will be horrified but not surprised by these figures. Behind each statistic is a patient waiting longer for care, often in distress, and doctors working under impossible conditions, exhausted and frustrated that they can’t provide the compassionate and quality care they want to for their patients.

“Hospitals exist to treat the ill, to make people better, and yet doctors are reporting that patients are dying in hospital corridors and hospital leaders are warning of a watershed moment for the NHS. These echo concerns we’ve had from our members across the country and the government must now take action.”

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