Pressures on the NHS are far from abating, with overstretched hospitals and long “trolley waits” 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.
Pointing to staff illness and low morale amid a surge of Covid infections, he said: “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 impaired system 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 Covid, while more than a quarter of ambulance handovers were delayed by more than 30 minutes, Dr Cooksley said.
The Government’s goal of tackling the backlog in elective, non-urgent care seems a “distant prospect” due to the strains on the ground, he said, calling for ministers to address issues in urgent and emergency care first.
“Workforce and capacity remain the two fundamental challenges”, he said, calling for “prioritisation of staffing in emergency departments and acute medical units to safe levels”.
Covid-19 infections in most of the UK remain near or at record levels, with about one in 13 people in England likely to test positive in the week to April 2, according to figures released on Friday.
The Society for Acute Medicine is the national representative body for the specialty of acute medicine, which receives most patients admitted as emergencies and helps maintain the flow of people through emergency departments.
An NHS spokesperson, said: “Latest figures sum up just how busy NHS staff currently are – alongside increasing numbers of Covid and emergency patients and with 94% of beds now occupied, they are also dealing with the highest number of staff off sick due to the virus for 10 weeks – an average of 28,500 staff each day.
“Our frontline staff are working closely together with social care providers to ensure patients leave hospital as soon as they are fit to do so, and hospitals have increased bed numbers and created extra capacity in line with increasing pressure.
“Despite the sustained demand, staff are continuing to focus on addressing the Covid-19 backlogs and roll out the NHS spring booster program so please come forward for your Covid jabs, and if you need NHS help, use the NHS 111 online service.”