A&E departments across the country could be heading for a crisis this winter according to recent figures.
A number of measures are to be considered to help A&E units cope with the enormous demand they experience. However, MPs on the Health Committee have warned that ministers and NHS managers must act now to prevent problems later this year.
One of the main problems for the NHS is said to be lower than required levels of senior staff, with only 17% of trusts being able to guarantee the recommended level of consultant cover. It has been suggested that the long hours and stressful working conditions experienced in A&E have caused senior doctors to abandon emergency medicine.
The NHS currently has a four-hour waiting time target but this target was missed across the country from January to March of this year. 94 out of 148 healthcare providers failed to meet the recommended waiting time. This meant that over 300,000 patients waited longer than they should have done, a huge 39% rise on the figures for 2012.
A number of methods have been suggested to take some pressure off the NHS, including the suggestion that ambulance crews could treat more people at the scene to reduce the number of attendees at A&E. Additionally, the new 111 non-emergency phone number has also come under criticism with claims that it fails to offer “timely and effective” advice. It has been suggested that improved advice could lead to fewer patients attending hospital emergency departments.
It is hoped that plans will be in place in each part of the country by the end of September so that A&E departments are prepared to deal with the increase in attendances that the winter months will inevitably bring.
By Ruth Eardley, clinical negligence department