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Doctors warn hospitals ‘not coping’ as study links A&E waits to deaths

By Sanna Mazhar, a medical negligence solicitor at Irwin Mitchell

Senior doctors have warned that hospitals are unable to cope with current pressures as a new study links long Accident and Emergency waits to an increased risk of death. The Emergency Medical Journal (EMJ) has published that patients waiting more than five hours within an emergency department are at an increased risk of dying.

Pressures across hospitals are causing deterioration in care performance and have resulted in more patients waiting for more than four hours in A&E departments than ever before.

Research findings

According to the research, death rates for patients waiting between six and eight hours before admission to hospital were eight per cent higher, and they were 10 per cent higher for those waiting eight to 12 hours. The study was based on data collected prior to the pandemic, and national A&E waiting times have since deteriorated further.

In November 2021, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that overcrowding and delays may have caused thousands of deaths during the pandemic. More recent figures from the college show that nearly 6,000 patients had waited more than 12 hours in A&E in the first week of January. In addition, less than 60 per cent of hospitals had met the national four hour waiting time target.

The paper stated that: "Long stays in the emergency department are associated with exit block and crowding, which can delay access to vital treatments. And they are associated with an increase in subsequent hospital length of stay, especially for older patients. This, in turn, increases the risk of hospital-acquired infection and physiological and psychological deconditioning.’’

The Need for Change

As a medical negligence solicitor, I have witnessed first-hand the impact that a delay in diagnosis or treatment can cause. It is imperative that the A&E system is reviewed so that action can be taken to review patients within a timely manner to ensure that they are treated effectively and promptly.

Following a review of the statement given by Ann Ford the CQC Deputy Chief Inspector in the North of England, it is important that senior leaders within the NHS have a more significant role in managing and mitigating any risks or challenges that the hospitals face so that they are addressed promptly and so that the risk to the patient is reduced.

It is hoped that this paper instigates a review into the system and that changes are made without delay so that patient safety is restored.

Find our more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by care issues at our dedicated medial negligence section

‘It’s clear that hospitals simply do not have the capacity to cope,’ warns Dr Simon Walsh from the British Medical Association