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Summer Crisis in Accident & Emergency Departments?

Usually the winter months see Accident & Emergency services coming under strain with increased numbers attending and longer waits. However May this year saw an unexpected surge.

Between 22,231 & 24,503 patients were not seen with the target time of 4 hours, which compares badly with last November where the numbers were 13.938 to 24,503. This is a very significant increase and a sign of a service under severe strain. It may be a result of Minor Injuries Units closing and people having difficulty getting to see their GP.

Anyone who has recently endured a long wait in an Emergency Department will know that it's not a pleasant experience. Waiting areas in A&E's are spartan and crowded. People can become angry and aggressive. In the evenings and weekends there are often people suffering from alcohol and drug abuse.

There is a general sense of powerlessness, waiting for your name to be called as you work your way through the stages of triage, seeing a junior doctor, perhaps seeing a more senior doctor, having x-rays and then waiting again for the doctor.
Staff also have a difficult task. This is the front line of the NHS. Casualty doctors are not necessarily specialists in a particular area of medicine. They will treat some but their skills are often in recognising when a patient needs investigation and who to refer them to.
Aside from the unpleasant experience for patients and pressure on staff, a Hospital Emergency service under strain creates a higher risk of medical errors. Our Medical Negligence Solicitors that specialise in A&E Compensation Claims regularly see people whose fractures have been missed or have suffered serious failures in medical diagnosis. Some of these cases are very serious.

Recently for instance we have dealt with several Medical Negligence cases of people who have died after ruptured Aortic Aneurysms (a burst major blood vessel) or Sub-Arachnoid Haemorrhages (bleeding in the brain) which have been missed by doctors. These are unusual conditions but the signs should have been obvious. Medical mistakes here an be catastrophic for both the patient and their family.

So the evidence that numbers in A&E units are so high at a time when they are normally much lower is a warning sign that things are not well in this part of the NHS. We need to look again at how patients can access emergency care most efficiently, if we are not just to see an increase in misery for patients but serious medical errors in emergency care.

Paul Sankey is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Slater and Gordon offer a free consultation for victims of clinical negligence and/or medical mistakes. Call us 24 hours 7 days a week on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we'll be happy to help.

Slater and Gordon are a leading Clinical Negligence Law Firm with over 1,200 staff in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Halifax, Newcastle, Wakefield, Cambridge; and meeting rooms where you can meet with a Solicitor in Bramhall, Cheshire.