Anne Whitfield-Ray, who was lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor in pain from a broken hip, couldn’t believe she was in the care of the NHS.
“It was absolute chaos – like something out of a third-world country,” the 77-year-old Worcestershire resident said.
“The staff was overworked, the paint was peeling off the walls, and patients were crammed into every available space – makeshift bays, corridors, and side rooms. It was terrifying.”
Anne remained in that position for 15 hours until a bed could be found for her.
Such delays were once the exception, occurring only on rare occasions in the dead of winter.
They are now commonplace. According to the most recent data, 40% of A&E patients who require admission face a trolley wait – a four-hour or longer wait for a bed.
More than 10% are kept waiting for more than 12 hours. To put that in context, there have already been more 12-hour trolley waits in 2022 than in the previous ten years combined. Similar pressures have been reported in other parts of the United Kingdom.
These are the sickest and most frail patients, the ones who cannot be discharged immediately after treatment. Delays like this have been linked in studies to longer hospital stays and even an increased risk of death.
By the time patients arrive at this point, they may have already spent hours in A&E or, increasingly, in the back of an ambulance, as Anne did.
She is now recovering at home after undergoing surgery a few days after her October fall.
“They are doing the best they can,” she said, despite her experience. But this is not what should be happening in the NHS.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s Dr. Adrian Boyle expressed concern about the plight of patients like Anne.
“We are not treating patients properly. People who spend extended periods of time in emergency rooms face numerous risks. Their treatment is both delayed and diluted.
“Elderly people become delirious, which is a horrible experience for them.” And I see people all the time who are so tired that they become confused, which doesn’t help them get better.”
“We really need to stop people having these long stays in emergency departments,” Dr. Boyle said, adding that once someone has spent more than six hours in A&E, there is a real increase in the risk of severe harm.
NHS England’s Dr. Vin Diwakar stated that staff was working “around the clock” to see and treat patients as soon as possible.
He claimed that the problems in A&E were caused by a lack of beds, claiming that 19 of every 20 are currently occupied.
He stated that the “fundamental challenge” hospitals were facing was the difficulty in discharging patients who were medically fit to leave but could not be released due to a lack of care in the community.
Every day, more than half of patients who are ready to be discharged are unable to do so.
Dr. Diwakar stated that steps were being taken, including investments in community teams, to prevent people from ending up in the hospital.