There could be as many as 500 deaths a week because of delays to the country’s crippling emergency care, a senior doctor has warned.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told Times Radio on New Year’s Day that long waiting times were being linked with hundreds of unnecessary deaths.
He said: “If you look at the graphs, they all are going the wrong way and I think there needs to be a real reset. We need to be in a situation where we cannot just shrug our shoulders and say this winter was terrible, let’s do nothing until next winter.
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“We need to increase our capacity within our hospitals, we need to make sure that there are alternative ways so that people aren’t all just funnelled into the ambulance service and emergency department. We cannot continue like this, it is unsafe and it is undignified.”
Dr Boyle estimated that between 300 to 500 people are dying each week as a consequence of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care.
“What we’re seeing now in terms of these long waits is being associated with increased mortality,” he added. “We need to actually get a grip of this.
“We don’t know about the waiting time figures because they don’t come out for a couple of weeks, I’d be amazed if they’re not the worst ever that we’ve seen over this December.”
The stark warning comes after it was revealed 149 patients rushed to hospital in ambulance were made to wait over an hour at Greater Manchester A&Es in just one day.
And one in five ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed over to emergency care teams last week. Hospitals are continuing to struggle with bed shortages and a surge in winter viruses.
On Friday (30 December), the conurbation’s NHS faced another day of pressure, with bosses continuing to urge people to avoid A&E unless faced with a life-threatening condition or illness.
Northern Care Alliance meanwhile – which runs four hospitals and community services within Salford, Oldham, Bury and Rochdale – raised a ‘Business Continuity Incident’ on Thursday due to the pressure being faced.
In Greater Manchester, on December 18, a total of 149 patients taken to hospital endured handover waits of more than an hour, according to statistics. The figures for the day are the latest available – with ongoing pressures being faced by hospitals likely to indicate the current figure would be higher.
On the day, 549 patients arrived at hospitals in Greater Manchester by ambulance. Of those, the data shows 85 suffered handover delays of between 30 minutes to an hour.
The figures for delays greater than an hour, however, are far higher – the 149 figure. Overall, the time lost to ambulance handover delays on the day was a total of 293 hours.
The sharp increase has been across both general hospital and critical care beds – those for the sickest patients. The average number of critical care patients with flu rose from 149 in the seven days to December 18, to 267 in the week to Christmas Day.
NHS England’s national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis urged eligible people to get vaccinated for flu and Covid.
He added: “Sadly, these latest flu numbers show our fears of a ‘twindemic’ have been realised, with cases up seven-fold in just a month and the continued impact of Covid hitting staff hard, with related absences up almost 50 per cent on the end of November.
“As well as flu, the NHS continues to be under significant pressure, with high bed occupancy, more than 12,000 beds taken up by patients medically fit for discharge, and demand for the 111 service remaining high, so please do make the most of 111 online, and only call 999 or visit A&E in an emergency.
“It is clear this is no time to be complacent and the risk of serious illness is very real, so with nearly 350,000 available vaccination appointments next week it is important that everyone eligible comes forward and gets their Covid and flu jabs at the earliest opportunity.”
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