Emergency care and ambulances overstretched as coronavirus surge continues


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Pressures on the NHS are far from abating amid a surge of coronavirus (Covid-19) infections. Overstretched hospitals and long “trolley waits” are putting patients at risk, a senior medic has warned.

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said overcrowding in emergency departments is delaying the transfer of people from ambulances to hospital beds.

High rate of infections, low morale

Pointing to staff illness and low morale amid a surge of infections, Cooksley said:

Read on…

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The NHS and social care continue to be under immense strain and the system is becoming increasingly compromised.

The reality is that we are seeing overcrowding in acute care settings with patient flow throughout the system impaired and patients stuck for long periods in emergency departments and acute medical units (AMUs) which results in worse patient outcomes.

Due to this, paramedics are then stuck unable to transfer their patients into hospitals and get back on the road, resulting in 999 patients being left at home for longer periods without clinical assessment and treatment which potentially has a significant impact on their outcomes.

These were problems that existed before Covid, however they are now exacerbated by high staff absence levels, fatigue and low staff morale, worsened by often not being able to deliver the standard of care they wish.

More than 71,000 staff in acute trusts in England were off work last week because of sickness – two in five as a result of coronavirus. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of ambulance handovers were delayed by more than 30 minutes, Cooksley said.

Overstretched and unsafe

The government’s goal of tackling the backlog in elective, non-urgent care seems a “distant prospect” due to the strains on the ground, said Cooksley. He called for ministers to address issues in urgent and emergency care first.

“Workforce and capacity remain the two fundamental challenges”, he said. And he called for “prioritisation of staffing in emergency departments and acute medical units to safe levels”.

Coronavirus infections in most of the UK remain near or at record levels. About one in 13 people in England were likely to test positive in the week to 2 April, according to figures released on Friday 8 April.

Meanwhile, free coronavirus testing for the general public ended on 1 April and the government seems to have no plans to reinstate it. Safety measures or guidelines also remain absent for workplaces, schools, shops, public transport and other public spaces, which may be a factor in the rising infection rates.

The Society for Acute Medicine is the national representative body for the specialty of acute medicine, which receives most patients admitted as emergencies. Acute medicine helps to maintain the flow of people through emergency departments.

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