Overcrowded A&E departments, likely to lead to increase in medical negligence claimsJune 11, 2013
Overcrowding at hospital A&E departments is causing a serious risk to patients. The NHS advises that all patients should be seen within four hours of attending A&E. Whilst some people see this as an artificial target, it is set to achieve a reasonable standard of patient care. However the shortage of beds has led to such a crisis that many A&E departments have abandoned trying to meet this target as it has become so difficult. In the last year, the number of patients who had to wait between four and 12 hours increased by 34,000.
Mike Clancy, present of the College of Emergency Medicine, says of the situation “[it] is dangerous. There is mortality and morbidity associated with overcrowding […] we have to get rid of that overcrowding because it is a substantial risk.”
The College of Emergency Medicine recently advised that up to 30% of patients who attend A&E should seek treatment elsewhere, such as GP practices. The thought is that if further GP practices were open and open for longer hours, more patients would, easing the burden on A&E departments.
Patrick Cadigan, registrar of the Royal College of Physicians, agrees that the problem stems from patients often not having an alternative place to seek treatment. He comments that “A&E is the recognisable brand, and that’s where patients will go because they know they will see someone who is expert, often within four hours, and they will receive treatment. […] we have to face up to the fact that the services, other than the A&E department, are often run on a nine to five elective basis.”
Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, admitted that many patients feel more comfortable attending A&E than alternative health providers. He noted that many patients either don’t know how or struggle to contact their local out-of-hours service and many find the service too slow.
It is important that action is taken quickly to ensure the efficiency of hospital A&E departments and GP practices. Unfortunately, patients who endure delays can often suffer irreparable damage. We have investigated medical negligence claims for many patients on the basis that more timely treatment would have prevented their injuries.
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