Struggling A&E departments, restricted hours and closures

22nd August 2017 Clinical Negligence

News stories about our struggling A&E departments are nothing new, but in the past two weeks, a number of worrying reports have emerged which only serve to highlight key concerns.

A year on from the implementation of its controversial policy, and Grantham Hospital's A&E department continues to only open between the restricted hours of 08:00 and 18:30. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has found that caring for patients in the corridors of hospitals under the management of Worcestershire Acute NHS Trust has worryingly become 'standard practice'. Waiting times at Kent and Canterbury Hospital have been declared 'the worst in England'. This is in stark contrast with Scotland, where the most recent figures show that 95.5% of patients are seen within four hours.

The reasons for the above are twofold; reduced staffing levels and an increase in patient numbers. We have an ageing population, yet services are not keeping up with the associated growth in demand. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) estimates that English hospitals need 2,200 more A&E consultants within the next five years to ensure patient safety.

A&E doctors are working to the very limits of their abilities to treat untenable numbers of patients. It is widely acknowledged that when mounting responsibilities are shared amongst a limited number of doctors, this can lead to exhaustion. The RCEM notes that some A&E doctors are moving departments whilst others are leaving the profession altogether as a result. This inability to retain staff creates a vicious circle, as numbers are reduced further, thereby increasing pressure on remaining staff.

A&E treatment is of particular concern to myself as a Huddersfield resident. Huddersfield is home to over 160,000 people, yet Greater Huddersfield and Calderdale CCG recently made the decision to close our A&E department. Patients requiring emergency care will instead be required to travel to Halifax via heavily congested road links. Some, but not all, doctors will be transferred to Halifax, which means that collectively Huddersfield and Halifax will be cared for by fewer doctors. It is worth noting that there are 24 A&E units across the country earmarked for either downgrading or closure, approximately a seventh of all hospitals in England.

Overworked doctors are more prone to making mistakes; be that overlooking the existence of symptoms, failing to follow Trust guidelines for the treatment of specific illnesses e.g. sepsis, or simply leaving a patient in a corridor for hours on end without regular monitoring.

Whilst we as solicitors work to ensure accountability, the potential for mistakes due to a doctor's fatigue is avoidable. We would all much prefer that such mistakes didn't happen, but with the winter season only a matter of months away, A&E woes are undoubtedly set to become front-page news yet again.

If you have been impacted by recent closures or sub-standard care please do not hesitate to contact the team for a confidential discussion.

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Lucy Mellor is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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