The death of around 500 people each week due to emergency delays is a “real problem”, a high health official has said.
Ian Higginson, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, has slammed any attempt to “discredit” his organization’s warnings about serious problems in hospitals, blaming the pandemic.
“If you’re on the front lines, you know this is a long-term problem. It’s not a short-term thing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Monday.
“The things we see every winter still seem to surprise the NHS.”
The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Adrian Boyle, told Times Radio that between 300 and 500 people die each week as a result of delays and problems with urgent and urgent care.
“We really need to get on this,” he said.
It comes after more than a dozen NHS and ambulance trusts reported critical incidents over the festive period.
Last week, one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to A&E teams.
NHS funding has a target of 95% ambulance transfers within 30 minutes and 100% within 60 minutes.
According to NHS England figures, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E in November to be admitted to a hospital unit.
This is an increase of almost 355% from the previous November, when the number was 10,646.
Higginson added that the Royal College of Emergency Medicine figures for delay-related deaths were more than an “estimate”.
“We have really good evidence, which has been accumulated over decades, that long waits in emergency departments are associated with poor patient outcomes,” he said.
“These are real numbers and I am concerned that we will hear attempts to twist and manipulate these figures and discredit them. I think if we hear it, we have to say no – it’s spin.
“This is a real problem. This is happening in our emergency departments now.”
Higginson said emergency department staff have to treat patients in the corridors, adding: “I’m afraid the doctors, nurses and other doctors in the emergency departments are terrible, but most importantly, they are terrible to our patients.
“What we’re seeing is reinforcing the kind of stuff we’ve been hearing for a while where patients are waiting a long time for an ambulance. Once they receive an ambulance, they can wait a long time outside our emergency departments to actually get to our door.
“And when they finally walk through our doors, there is a long wait in our departments for a visit. And we have to treat patients in all sorts of unsatisfactory places, such as corridors or areas that are simply not intended for patients.
“All of this is at a level most of us who have worked in emergency medicine have never seen before. This is terrible.
Education Minister Robert Halfon told BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Monday that pressure on emergency departments was Rishi Sunak’s “top priority”.
He acknowledged the pressure the health system is facing, but said: “I am absolutely sure the Prime Minister is treating this as a top priority.
“We are increasing NHS capacity by the equivalent of 7,000 beds, spending an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharges and improve efficiency.”
He acknowledged that more needs to be done, but defended the government’s response.
“The government is allocating a lot of funds and doing everything possible.
“We know, of course, that many of these problems have been caused by the pandemic and the pressure on the NHS that we have seen over the last few years.