A&E stretched to breaking point and beyond

The A&E service is sometimes stretched to breaking point and beyond. Photo: PA Wire

A&E departments across the country are having what some people call "a challenging" time and others say is a full-blown crisis. Patients waiting hours for treatment. Ambulances queuing up to "handover" patients.

Your emails to ITV's have shown that the A&E service is sometimes stretched to breaking point and beyond.

You could argue that A&E is the backbone of the NHS: the one place everyone can go and get urgent medical treatment. No ifs or buts. Turn up and someone will see you even if you have to wait a long time.

So what IS the current state of A&E departments - and what has led to the current emergency in emergency departments? ITV decided to try to answer these questions by "embedding" a camera team in a hospital A&E over two weeks.

It's a big step for any hospital to give that kind of uncensored access to a news film crew.

We talked to several, but in the end we went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Why? It's a big new £500 million building with over 1,200 beds. It sees 730,000 patients a year, nearly 100 000 of them coming through the "front door" (that's what they call A&E).

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital sees 730,000 patients a year. Credit: ITV News/Steve Gardner

It has a major trauma unit where patients with immediately life-threatening injuries are brought by air ambulance. It has a minor injuries unit. So we would see a large range of injuries.

But what really impressed us was the Chief Executive, Dame Julie Moore. Julie (no-one ever called her anything else) is an ex-nurse with a disarming directness. If something ain't right, she doesn't waffle - she gets down to sorting it out. Now.

For example, I ask her if the hospital is meeting the target for waiting times in A&E - seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours.

Other chief executives would have pointed out that the population of Birmingham has gone up by 300,000, and mentioned other factors before admitting they didn't quite hit the target - missing it by a whisker.

Julie just says: "No". We're sorry and we're trying to put it right."

Straight talking and we hope straight reporting from the inside of one of the busiest emergency departments in the country.

It all starts today.