This year's winter crisis, particularly the pressures on Hospital A&E’s, has been widely acknowledged as the worst in living memory. People waiting for hours on trolleys in corridors, ambulances queuing up outside hospitals and consultants writing to the Prime Minister saying that some are experiencing patients are prematurely dying.
But what’s the truth behind this latest crisis and where might the solutions lie? Fiona Foster investigates.
Dr Taj Hassan, A&E Consultant and President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, feels that the NHS has reached severe pressure levels.
“I think the NHS and certainly emergency departments are probably in their worst state for well over fifteen years…...What we have seen is the longest waits in accident and emergency departments, we have seen more emergency admissions than ever before.”
We hear a distressing story from Nigel Craig, who’s elderly father, 95 years old Robert Craig, fell and waited six and a half hours on a cold bathroom floor, unable to move.
“I was getting really really stressed, I was trying to keep calm, I didn’t want to lose my temper or anything….At this point he was just screaming out.”
In a statement the North East Ambulance Trust apologised for the delay and said:
“....At times of such high demand, it is imperative that our resources are sent to patients who are most in need. Unfortunately this can result in those patients whose lives are not immediately at risk waiting longer than we would like. We are currently investigating this incident….”
Medical professionals describe the current conditions as intolerable for some patients and say they are putting overwhelming pressure on NHS staff struggling to provide safe and compassionate care.
Lucie Cocker is a junior doctor who works in busy A&E in Yorkshire. She agreed to film a video diary for us to capture what it’s like to work on the frontline of the winter crisis.
“When I arrived in A&E there were ambulances in every single bay outside of the A&E department. The department was incredibly busy - every cubicle which could take two beds with a temporary partition did have a temporary partition. At one point we did have beds in corridor areas in the A&E as well and it was absolutely rammed.”
A key reason for these delays appears to be a shortage of acute beds. In fact recent research has found that the total number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years - from 300,000 in 1987 to 142,000 in 2017.
*Source: Kings Fund
Many senior clinicians believe that high bed occupancy rates and a shortage of acute beds in the NHS could potentially lead to premature deaths as patients are being forced to spend long periods waiting in ambulances outside A&E or on trolleys in corridors.
In a statement, NHS England told Tonight:
“Winter has been a time of pressure for the NHS but the vast majority of patients... have been seen within four hours.... These pressures highlight the need to evolve services to meet the more complex needs of today’s patients who are generally older.... This is why we are now making the biggest national move to integrated care of any major western country”
NHS Winter Crisis: What’s the Truth? will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm on Thursday 1st February.