There are signs that increasing demand and reducing funding have brought Accident & Emergency Departments in our hospitals to the brink of collapse. In fact ‘collapse’ is the word Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary himself chose to describe the strain on services. His comments followed reports from the Foundation Trust Network, which represents 200 health trusts that the system could collapse in 6 months and the College of Emergency Medicine saying that Emergency Departments were facing their biggest challenge in a decade.
The College of Emergency Medicine also described workloads as unsustainable and complained of staff shortages. Whereas a minimum of 10 consultants was needed - the average was only 7.
None of this will surprise anyone who has turned up at Accident & Emergency recently where they will have probably seen full waiting rooms and had to wait hours to be seen.
Accident & Emergency Departments provide a key frontline service. Their staff will not be experts in the wide variety of conditions they see but they must know how to distinguish between emergency and routine and to know when to refer patients to other specialists.
The College was concerned that errors were occurring that should not, such as surgical instruments being left in patients as happened in 1 in 17 Emergency wards in one year.
Emergency Departments are an area of the health service where things sadly go wrong. One of the most common errors is fractures being missed and in some cases this can lead to serious pain and disability for patients, where outcomes are worse because of the mistake. In other cases we have acted for the families of people who died because serious conditions such as Aortic Aneurysms and Subarachnoid Haemorrhage or other brain haemorrhages were missed. We are also acting on claims where patients developed sepsis and suffered strokes because poor monitoring meant warning signs were missed.
Apart from the damage negligent errors cause to peoples’ lives they result in vastly increased costs to the health service which has to provide medical treatment and therapy for people with much more serious injuries than they should have. It also passes cost on to other areas of the state – the DWP funding benefits and local authorities paying for care and social services. Not only therefore do we need more money spent on Emergency services for the benefit of patients but it makes economic sense to ensure patients receive the best possible treatment.
Jeremy Hunt has promised a ‘fundamental look’ at how Accident & Emergency Departments work. It needs more than just a look to see what we know already. Accident & Emergency services do vital work and it is important that they have the resources they need.
By Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey.