A&E departments across England and Wales are on brink of disaster—and the winter cold and flu season could push them over the edge.
Queues at London A&Es were as bad as would normally be expected in December by the beginning of this month, a new report revealed this week.
Many hospitals are running at over the 85 percent bed occupancy rate that was designed to allow space for emergencies and winter health crises.
The Royal London Hospital in east London even closed to emergency patients for two days. It operated a “one out, one in” policy on 10 and 11 September and cancelled non-emergency surgery.
The Royal London is part of Bart’s Health Trust—the largest NHS trust in Britain. But the trust has been driven into crisis by PFI payments to private companies.
Recent NHS figures showed 2,982 patients waited on trolleys in A&E in England for between four and 12 hours in the same week.
The Tories have been forced to recognise the crisis gripping A&Es. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt says he will stump up £250 million for A&Es for 2013 and 2014.
But this is a mere sticking plaster on the £20 billion in cuts he is forcing through in the NHS across England and Wales.
These cuts—along with snowballing PFI debts and the pressures of privatisation—put a huge strain on the whole NHS. But A&Es must shoulder a greater burden than most.
People struggling to see their GPs or pay for their care elsewhere have nowhere else to turn. And the inept running of out-of-hours services by private companies has made matters worse.
The last time queues were this high was in April of this year, when the launch of the 111 non-emergency phone service caused chaos with too few medically trained staff.
It sent hundreds to A&Es unnecessarily—while others did not get the emergency care they needed.
Dr Aymen Asim left A&E work four months ago because it is “too stressful, too under-resourced and too under-staffed”.
He has worked in A&Es in Romford, Essex, Birmingham and Bridgend in Wales. “Patients would stop me and beg to be seen,” he told Socialist Worker. “Romford was the worst—there weren’t enough staff or beds.
“Plenty of times there was nowhere to take very unwell patients for pain relief and privacy.”
Nine out of 10 nurses working in A&E said that the current situation was endangering patients, according to a recent survey by the Royal College of Nurses.
“Cuts will increase the risk of unnecessary deaths,” agreed Ayman. “It’ll take more than money pushed in at the last moment to deal with the crisis. The NHS needs more funding and more staff.”