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Emergency services experiencing ‘year-round’ crisis, BMA warns


By Valeria Fiore
Reporter
7 November 2018

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NHS emergency care services in England are experiencing a ‘year-round’ crisis, leading doctors have said.

The BMA examined NHS England data on A&E attendance and emergency admissions, which confirmed concerns the organisation had previously raised – that summer 2018 would be ‘as bad as’ recent winters.

The BMA analysis, published today, found that the summer of 2018 ‘delivered worse levels of care to patients than five out of eight recent winters’.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul attributes this poorer emergency services performance to ‘declining budgets and staff shortages’ at a time when the NHS faces growing patient demand.

Frontline staff must be given the resources they need to deliver a good level of care, the BMA urged, calling on the Government to ensure this is the case.

Key findings

An additional 200,000 patients had to wait for more than four hours on a trolley before they received care in the winter of 2018 (January to March), compared to the same period in 2011, the BMA said. This constitutes a sevenfold increase.

Other key findings include:

  • Around 125,215 patients waited for longer than four hours on a trolley after being admitted to hospital between July and September 2018 – a number greater than every winter (January to March) between 2011 and 2015.
  • Performance on the four-hour A&E waiting time target was lower in the winter months this year than in 2011 – falling from almost 97% to 85%.
  • Since winter 2011, there has been a 19% increase in total emergency admissions – from 1,290,056 to 1,529,087 in the winter of 2018.
  • Emergency services recorded a six-fold increase in trolley waits longer than four-hours in summer (July to September) 2018 when compared with summer 2011.
  • Between summer 2011 and summer 2018, thee was a 25% increase in total emergency admissions – up from 1,247,113 to 1,558,691.

‘Very precarious position’ for emergency departments

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Taj Hassan said that, on top of what the BMA analysis revealed, ‘the number of beds across the system has declined by nearly 10% in the last seven years, with occupancy rates now routinely above safe levels’.

He added: ‘We are undoubtedly heading into this winter in very precarious position.

‘The annual ‘winter rescue package’ is always very welcome, but again has come a little late.

‘We hope to see better planning in the forthcoming 10-year plan that will render “winter bailouts” unnecessary, prioritising the recently agreed emergency care workforce plan and halting the annual decline of bed numbers is essential.’

An NHS spokesperson said NHS winter planning ‘is underway’ and that staff getting their flu vaccine will also help reduce pressures on the health service.

Earlier this year, the Government announced that it had freed up £420m to help the health and care services cope with winter pressures.

Of this money, £145m was allocated to hospitals and £36.3m to the ambulance services to care for patients over winter.

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘Our historic long-term plan for the NHS, backed by an extra £20.5bn a year by 2023/24, will improve front-line services and put our health service on a long-term sustainable footing.’

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