yourUp to 500 people could be dying every week due to delays in emergency care, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has said. Delays in access to care throughout the stages of treatment have resulted in an increasing number of people opting for private medical care, with one in eight UK adults have done so in the past year.
Four people spoke to The Guardian about their access experiences National Health Service care and medicine in recent months.
‘The consultation is in January 2024, a whole year is missing’
Karl, 58, a beekeeper from Lytham in Lancashire, has kept bees for 10 years and is used to getting stung “no problem”. But in September 2022, a bite in her armpit while gardening caused an anaphylactic reaction.
“Emergency services were excellent – an EpiPen relieved the attack in minutes,” he said. “I went to my GP to get my own EpiPen and was informed that the immunology department at my hospital would have to instruct me on how to use one and he couldn’t prescribe it. Given the seriousness of my reaction, he arranged an emergency consultation. The appointment is in January 2024, a whole year is missing.
Bolton went back to his GP and asked if he could expedite his case. “I don’t want to jump the queue, but if there are people with, say, mild allergies in front of me, I think it’s reasonable that a life-threatening condition should be prioritized. My GP sent the request but nothing happened. I don’t have bees anymore, my GP was pretty emphatic about that.”
Bolton is now considering private healthcare or even looking for an EpiPen online. “I haven’t really looked into it, I don’t think I can do it legally.”
‘I sat on A&E all night’
On Tuesday, December 13, 2022, Lucy, 79, of Suffolk, began suffering from breathing difficulties and went with her husband to A&E, where she said they had to wait about 12 hours overnight.
“First we waited about an hour outside of A&E, from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.,” he said. “There were several ambulances, at least three, also waiting to take patients to the hospital. I was up all night and they saw me the next morning.
“It was horrible to sit all night in my robe, feeling horrible, in a room full of people with other people feeling equally horrible.
“I was in the hospital for six nights, diagnosed with influenza A and pneumonia. The actual care I received, when I received it, was skilled and compassionate. I feel very sorry for the staff. They worked without complaining, but it made me very angry that they had to work in those conditions.”
‘I have no faith that the appointment will take place’
Carole, 69, lives with two autoimmune diseases and a history of stomach problems, and has had a phone appointment repeatedly rescheduled as her gastric symptoms have deteriorated. After an appointment with a consultant regarding her treatment for gastric symptoms in January 2022, she was supposed to have a follow-up call in April; this was delayed several times throughout the year.
After undergoing general anesthesia for a cataract operation in October, her gastric symptoms worsened, and in late 2022 Carole, who is medically retired and lives in Merseyside, said her stomach was “in extremis”. She said her December appointment was pushed back to May 2023. “By then I wouldn’t have any stomach left,” she said. “I can’t sleep and my mouth is full of acid. I am worried that I will not be able to survive this crisis in the health service.”
She was able to move the appointment up to January, but she also made a separate appointment with the consultant in private. “I intend to keep [the private appointment] because I have no faith that the [NHS] the appointment will go ahead, after all other phone appointments have been canceled and changed,” he said.
‘My local hospital doesn’t offer abdominal ultrasounds, I’m going private’
When Katherine, 54, a music teacher at Berkshire, was referred by her GP for an abdominal ultrasound two weeks ago, the first NHS appointment she could get was at a clinic an hour and a half away. The closest health center offering the service was an hour away, she said, as her local hospital does not offer the service. “They could offer an appointment fairly quickly, but not locally,” she said.
Being self-employed, Katherine decided to opt for private treatment for the scan, rather than spending hours driving and missing work. “At least that way I can get a convenient time,” she said. “It’s £300, but I don’t need to miss a day’s work – it’s a five minute scan.” The private clinic she chose said that all of her team have consultative roles at her local NHS hospital, where she was unable to obtain the service.
“It seems like such a simple procedure. It’s really disappointing – I understand why consultants work in the private sector, but the fact that you can’t see them at all in the NHS [locally] It’s pretty shocking.”