Up to 500 people could be dying each week due to delays in emergency care, a senior health care official has said.
The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Adrian Boyle, believes that waiting times for December will be the worst he has ever seen, with more than a dozen National Health Service trust funds and ambulance services declaring critical incidents during the festive period.
A severe flu outbreak and a rise in Covid cases They are said to be adding pressure to the system and overwhelming hospitals with patients.
Speaking to Times Radio, Boyle said: “We start this December with the worst performance ever against our target and the highest occupancy levels at the hospital.
“We don’t know the waiting time figures because they don’t come out for a couple of weeks; I’d be surprised if they’re not the worst we’ve seen this December.
“What we are seeing now in terms of these long waits is associated with increased mortality, and we believe that between 300 and 500 people die each week as a result of delays and problems with urgent and emergency care. We really need to get this under control.”
In November, 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in the emergency room for a decision to be made to admit them to a hospital department, according to figures from England’s NHS.
This is an increase of almost 355% compared to the previous November, when an estimated 10,646 patients waited more than 12 hours.
Boyle said: “If you look at the charts, they’re all going the wrong way, and I think there needs to be a real reset. We need to be in a situation where we can’t just shrug and say ‘This winter was terrible, let’s not do anything until next winter.’
“We need to increase our capacity within our hospitals, we need to make sure there are alternative ways for people to not just be funneled to the ambulance service and emergency department.
“We cannot continue like this, it is insecure and it is not dignified.”
Some critically ill patients have reportedly waited hours for a bed and ambulances have been unable to pick up those in need as they have been stuck waiting to take patients to hospital.
Last week, one in five ambulance patients in England it waited over an hour to be delivered to the A&E crews.
In Swindon, a patient was forced to wait on a trolley at A&E for 99 hours after arriving by ambulance at Great Western Hospital as staff tried to get a bed.
A doctor there told the Sunday Times: “We are broken and no one is listening.” Jon Westbrook, Great Western’s chief medical officer, told staff in a leaked message: “We’re looking at case numbers and [sickness] that we haven’t seen before in our clinical careers.”
NHS Trusts aim for 95% of all ambulance handovers to be completed within 30 minutes and 100% within 60 minutes.
Boyle said it’s “absolutely never too late” to get a flu shot and encouraged those who are eligible to get vaccinated to reduce pressure on hospitals.
He said there is likely to be a bigger outbreak this year because immunity has waned after lockdown measures were introduced to combat the covid pandemic.
He added: “The flu and covid cause a number of problems. First of all, there are patients who need to be admitted to the hospital, but there are also staff who get sick and that creates a manpower problem.
“And it’s also incredibly disruptive to the hospital because you have to put them in separate areas and separate wards. We can’t take care of people in the hospital where people without the flu are next to people with the flu, because we don’t want people who are admitted to the hospital to have the flu.
“So the whole infectious disease outbreak thing is extremely disturbing. We haven’t had an outbreak in the last two years because of all the things we’ve done around Covid and this year is shaping up to be a pretty horrible flu season.”