Misery in A&E: Tens of thousands left waiting in corridors or even ambulances for hours before they get a bedHealth experts say sufferers are 'warehoused' in hospitals
Some are kept in ambulances to massage waiting time figuresAdmissions have soared and the health service is struggling to cope, say health professionals
01:17 GMT, 27 December 2012
01:17 GMT, 27 December 2012
Tens of thousands of patients are being kept on trolleys or in ambulances because there are not enough hospital beds.
Some are ‘warehoused’ in corridors or side rooms for up to 12 hours before being taken to a ward.
Others are parked outside in ambulances for up to 30 minutes until they are allowed to be admitted.
Experts warn that such patients are liable to deteriorate without access to extra oxygen, monitoring equipment, call bells or even meal rounds.
They also point out that it is highly undignified for patients – many of whom are elderly – to have to wait for this length of time, sometimes in full public view.
'Warehoused' Patients are being left in ambulances for up to half an hour, according to Department of Health figures
Department of Health figures show that in the last 12 months a total of 125,887 patients have waited for between four and 12 hours to be transferred to a ward after being seen by a doctor in A&E.
The annual figures are up by a fifth on the same period last year and MPs and nurses warn that the NHS is struggling to cope.
At the same time the number of patients attending A&E has surged – partly owing to patients losing faith in GP out-of-hours services.
The figures also show that 900 patients a day are being made to wait in the back of ambulances queued outside A&E units.
In all, 32,546 have waited more than 30 minutes in ambulances since the beginning of November, when the Department of Health started recording the data.
There is also concern that NHS managers are deliberately keeping patients waiting in ambulances to meet their targets.
Hospitals have been told to ensure that 95 per cent of patients spend no more than four hours in A&E before being discharged or sent to another ward – but the clock starts only once a patient is formally admitted, so if the emergency unit is particularly busy bosses will be inclined to leave patients waiting in an ambulance.
In the last decade, the number of patients attending A&E has soared by 50 per cent to more than 21million a year. Many do not know how to contact their GP out of hours and have nowhere else to turn.
The rise has also been blamed on the binge-drinking culture – more than a million of the annual A&E admissions are alcohol-related.
Despite the official targets, the figures also show that more than 100,000 patients spend more than four hours in A&E every week. There have been 546,676 cases since November 1, up 16 per cent on last year.
Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham, who obtained the figures, said: ‘The evidence is mounting of an NHS struggling to cope with the toxic combination of cuts and re-organisation.
Unhealthy: Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham said health cuts and re-organisations are 'toxic'
Wherever I go, I hear stories of A&Es being overwhelmed, ambulances queueing outside and hospitals running beyond safe occupancy levels.
‘It sounds like the service is on a knife-edge and living from one day to the next.’
He warned that problems were likely to worsen over the winter as increasing numbers of patients are admitted with flu, pneumonia and the highly contagious norovirus bug.
‘I am worried that some hospitals will simply not get safely through the winter, and patients will suffer,’ he added.
Tom Sandford, Director of the Royal College of Nursing England, said: ‘We know that despite a growing demand for A&E services, both hospital beds and staffing levels are being cut.
‘Forcing patients to wait up to 12 hours before being admitted or discharged is not only unacceptable from a patient point of view, but can cause great distress to families, carers and nursing staff.’
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN, said: ‘Being on a trolley for an extended time can lead to patients deteriorating and is bad in every sense.
‘There is a lack of call buttons and water – and many people are, understandably, too embarrassed to tell a nurse that they need to go to the loo.
Ministers can deny it and dress it up with statistics, but we know that this is a reality. We’re warehousing people on trolleys in inappropriate places.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘The NHS is well prepared for winter and is coping well so far at a time of increasing demand.’