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Seriously ill patients stranded in A&E wards

This article is over 4 years, 6 months old
A decade of Tory cuts has the NHS at breaking point—with patients stuck in ambulances and emergency wards, writes Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue 2688
People have taken action across Britain to defend A&Es, including this protest in Huddersfield in 2016
People have taken action across Britain to defend A&Es, including this protest in Huddersfield in 2016 (Pic: Neil Terry)

Tory austerity meant patients were forced to sleep overnight at an A&E unit in one the biggest hospitals in England.

A leaked memo from hospital bosses at the Royal Sunderland Hospital shows that it was running out of beds last week.

Bosses sent an email to local GP doctors last Friday, warning them that an increase in admissions was having a “severe impact across the trust”.

It said, “There has been increased pressures on bed capacity over the past two to three days.

“Fifty more beds are being used, 40 boarding in different wards and 20 patients were stuck in the emergency department as no beds ­available.” This led to “some patients having to sleep overnight.”

People forced to sleep at the department would have already been admitted into hospital as “medical emergencies”, not just waiting to be seen.

Yet health workers were unable to find beds on wards—despite the fact that the Royal Sunderland Hospital had opened up 50 more beds to top up its usual 970 to cope with the winter crisis.

The winter always sees increased admissions by people with the flu, but hospitals would be able to cope if there weren’t acute beds and ­staffing crises.

The number of hospital beds in England has consistently fallen during the last two decades from over 240,000 to under 150,000 in 2019. There are roughly 2.7 beds per 1,000 people in Britain—the second lowest number across Europe.


In Sunderland the hospital tried to cope by cancelling operations and getting “extra consultants pulled into the emergency department”.

This wasn’t enough and bosses asked GPs to only refer patients to A&E “if all other possible solutions have been exhausted”. One local GP said the hospital bosses’ request was “exasperating”.

The other possible solutions ­provide no long term relief.

One option the hospital is trying involved buying bed places in local care homes, themselves overstretched by the social care crisis.

In another sign of the NHS crisis this week the opening of two hospitals in Liverpool and Sandwell will be held up until 2022, according to the NAO spending watchdog.

The Royal Liverpool and Sandwell hospitals were delayed after the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion in 2017.

It had been building the hospitals under the private finance initiative (PFI) privatisation scam. This saw banks and private companies finance and build hospitals, then rent them back at huge interest payments and maintenance costs to the NHS.

The bill for the Royal Liverpool Hospital is now expected to come in at more than £1 billion, compared to £746 million originally stated.

The NHS needs a sharp ­injection of cash and a total break from privatisation.

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