Sadly, there does not appear to be a week go by that the NHS does not make headline news recently. Whether it concerns the ambulance service, hospitals or GP surgeries, it is nearly always in relation to underfunding, understaffing and a too high demand on the system.
Last week saw South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) make news once more when 94 year old, former cricketer, Rupert Webb waited almost 4 hours for an ambulance to arrive at his home after he slipped and fell in his bathroom. Mr Webb spent more than 3 hours trapped on his bathroom floor before his neighbours were able to come to his rescue. SECAmb’s explanation for the delay was that as Mr Webb was not bleeding or unconscious, he was classed as ‘low priority.’
A spokesman for SECAmb, which is currently in special measures, said “We are very sorry that [Mr Webb] had to wait longer than he should. We are working hard to reach people as quickly as possible. . . However, the demand placed upon our resources and delays at hospitals waiting to hand over patients means that there are times when we are taking longer than we would like to reach some patients, and in particular those in a non life-threatening condition.”
Mr Webb’s ordeal is of course not an isolated incident. The National Audit Office published a report on 24 January 2017 in relation to NHS ambulance services. The NAO reported that ‘72.5% of the most serious (Red 1) calls were responded to within 8 minutes in 2015-16, against a target of 75%’. There appears to be a knock-on effect on all services from overstretched hospitals. Transferring a patient from an ambulance to an emergency department is expected to take up to 15 minutes from the ambulance arriving at the hospital. Once the patient has been passed into the hospitals’ care, the ambulance crew are then expected to have the ambulance ready for another emergency call within 15 minutes. The NAO report states that “in 2015-16, only 58% of transfers met this expectation, with wide variation between ambulance trust regions.”
Hospitals are currently seeing a surge in demand for care. In order to minimise the risk of infections and delay in treatment, hospitals should remain at 85% capacity. However, it was reported last month that 9 out of 10 NHS trusts have been working at unsafe capacity levels this winter. Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said ‘above 85% and the risks start rising and once you get into the 90% it is significant. You don’t get this in other countries and it just shows the pressure hospitals are under.’ Chief Executive of Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, Andrew Foster, told the BBC that the beginning of 2017 has been the worst he has ever seen, explaining that the whole system was backed up, A & E cubicles were full, and patients arriving by ambulance were queuing in corridors because there were issues with discharging patients.
Until last year Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust has been one of the best performing trusts in meeting the four-hour A&E target. However, as an outbreak of norovirus on Boxing Day resulted in three wards being closed and 75 staff members being off sick. Mr Hopson explained “the problem we have is that we are seeing more and more patients coming to A&E who could be seen by a GP and then we are finding it more difficult to discharge patients. There are simply not the places available any more because of the cuts to social care or we are seeing care homes and families themselves saying that the person’s care is too complex. They end up staying in hospital.”
Simon Walsh, a consultant in a major trauma centre, A&E department, explained that “this year things have been closer to breaking point than I’ve ever known it before. . . There was just such pressure on the system and as a result the exit block was so sustained that we had patients stuck for hours on end because there weren’t any beds available to admit them on to wards. We had in excess of 20 patients at times for the whole night. And it just paralyses the emergency department.”
Kimberley Gardner, a nurse in the Midlands working at a major trauma centre in the critical care department, commenting on the Red Cross’ description of the NHS as a humanitarian crisis said “calling it a humanitarian crisis is not hyperbole, it is the reality”. “Daily we get a phone call from an emergency department begging critical care for equipment to monitor patients as all of their resus bays have been ‘doubled up’ (where they put two patients in one bay) meaning they need two monitors but only have one. They ask us but we have run out also.”
Unfortunately these are of course not isolated events and the majority of readers will know a friend or family member who has witnessed the disarray the NHS is currently in, first hand, either through being a patient or an NHS employee.
Controversially, last year Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), stated publicly that “[the] government is deliberately setting up the NHS to fail, that’s clear. The whole agenda . . . is to wash its hands of the NHS. The biggest evidence is that they are starving the NHS of the funding it needs so that eventually they will say that it’s unaffordable.”
Estella currently works within the medical negligence department of Mayo Wynne Baxter. If you feel our specialist medical negligence team may be able to assist you, we will be happy to explore a possible medical negligence claim with you. Please call 0800 84 94 101 and ask to speak to a member of our medical negligence team.