A 92-year-old crying grandmother asked her family to let her die during a 33-hour wait on a trolley for a hospital bed, while a Welsh man claimed to have slept on the floor after spending an entire day in an ambulance.
These are just two of the never-ending list of horror stories coming out of Britain’s broken NHS.
The ongoing crisis, partly fuelled by exploding rates of Covid and flu, has prompted calls for pandemic-era face mask and WFH guidance to be reintroduced, in order to protect the health service from crumbling.
Meanwhile, it also emerged today that trust bosses are considering treating patients in field hospitals, or tents, to cope with the dire situation.
A corridor in Aintree University Hospital – where Graeme Smith’s grandmother was forced to wait for 33 hours until she was moved to a ward
Meanwhile, it also emerged today that trust bosses are considering treating patients in field hospitals, or tents, to cope with the dire situation
The flu-nami has swept across the NHS in England, the latest round of health service data shows, with over 3,800 admissions for the virus on December 23. Graph shows the number of beds on wards taken up by those with flu (red) and the number of beds occupied due to the virus in critical care (blue)
Why IS the NHS struggling this winter?
Some 12,000 hospital beds across the country — roughly one in seven — are currently filled with patients declared fit for discharge.
The figure is triple the pre-pandemic average.
Experts say numbers are being driven by a crisis in social care, leaving patients left to languish on wards for up to nine months because there is no suitable nursing accommodation or care available for them in the community.
The lack of beds has seen ambulances stuck in queues for 20 hours outside of hospitals this summer, as emergency medics scramble to find beds for patients. This has had a knock-on effect on response times.
The NHS, which employs over a million people, has around 130,000 vacancies across its entire workforce in England.
This reduces productivity, with fewer staff to carry out appointments and procedures.
Health chiefs also warn that it stops staff from delivering high-quality care as they rush between patients, and can lead to safety concerns if too few staff are working.
In turn, medics are at a higher risk of burnout, illness and early retirement due to these factors.
Surge in seasonal viruses
Flu has surged in recent weeks, with over 4,000 beds per day being taken up by hospital admissions for the virus in the week to December 25.
Sickness from seasonal winter bugs not only increases demands on the NHS but also damages its capacity.
This is due to staff falling ill with the bugs themselves which prevents them from working.
NHS staff sickness has surged recently with 63,000 staff missing work per day in the week running up to Christmas Day.
Strep A fears
30 children in the UK have died in so far this winter due to an ongoing outbreak of Strep A.
The bacterial infection is harmless for the vast majority. But it can cause life-threatening illness if the bacteria invade the blood, muscles or lungs.
Doctors have warned that A&E, GPs and ambulances are in meltdown due to a surge in demand from parents worried that their child is infected.
Patients have faced longer emergency department waits, while some hospitals have postponed routine procedures to cope with demand.
Around 7,700 beds per day were occupied by a patient infected with Covid in England in the week to December 18.
Two-thirds are primarily admitted for another ailment, such as a broken leg, but happen to test positive.
However, infected patients still pile pressure on the health service as they have to be isolated from others.
The virus also contributes to higher rates of staff sickness.
GP appointment crisis
Campaign groups, MPs and senior medics say desperate patients are turning to emergency and walk-in services because they can’t get a face-to-face appointment with their GP.
The average GP in England is responsible for 2,200 patients now – up from 1,900 in 2016.
In the areas with poorest access, up to 2,600 patients are fighting over one family doctor.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has previously warned difficulties in seeing a GP was leading to a crisis in emergency departments.
Graeme Smith, 37, from Merseyside, told of his grandmother’s horrifying NHS wait.
An ambulance was called to take the care home resident to hospital on New Year’s Eve after she suddenly fell unwell. But it took ‘hours’ to turn up.
She arrived at Aintree University Hospital at 9pm on December 31.
But Mr Smith’s sick grandmother was left in a corridor until around 6am on January 2, when she was eventually moved onto a ward, it was claimed.
Mr Smith told the Liverpool Echo that his grandmother was waiting on a hospital corridor with ‘about 40 other elderly or very sick people’ and was in such a state she was ‘telling us she wanted to die’.
‘They were all being treated as well as staff could manage, but a number of them were in distress. It was horrendous to be honest,’ he added
The harrowing case is the latest to shine a grim light on the chaos surrounding the NHS, with hospitals and A&Es across the country completely overwhelmed.
Several NHS trusts have declared ‘critical incidents’, meaning they cannot function as usual due to extraordinary pressure.
Speaking about his grandmother’s state during the 33-hour wait, Mr Smith said: ‘She was very distressed after a while, she was crying and telling us she wanted to die.
‘She was praying and asking to be taken. I’ve never heard her say anything like that before.’
Mr Smith described the situation as ‘horrendous’ and said there were people in the corridor who couldn’t have their ‘basic needs met because there weren’t enough staff’.
He said some ill patients were unable to get to the toilet and ‘had soiled themselves’.
‘The staff were trying their best, they were so apologetic,’ he added.
‘They are victims of this as well. Seeing this made me angry and that anger should be directed at the government.’
In November, around 37,837 patients waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted to a hospital department, according to figures from NHS England.
This is an increase of almost 355 per cent compared with the previous November, when an estimated 10,646 patients waited longer than 12 hours.
Meanwhile, on Christmas Day in Wales, 63-year-old Wayne Erasmus claimed he spent 24 hours in an ambulance before being forced to sleep on the floor.
Mr Erasmus, from Carmarthenshire, was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.
But he said he was in the ambulance overnight at Swansea’s Morriston Hospital before sleeping on the floor of the acute medical unit.
He told S4C’s Newyddion programme the unit was ‘a shambles’ and said everyone was over the age of 60 and ‘roughing it’.
Swansea Bay University Health Board said it would investigate.
In other developments, NHS trust bosses are now considering using ‘field hospitals’ to deal with patient surges and the bed-blocking crisis — caused by delays in discharging healthy patients.
Sarah Whiteman, chief medical director of the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Integrated Care Board, told colleagues the use of tents was a ‘real possibility’, according to the BBC.
In an email from Ms Whiteman to colleagues, obtained by The Sunday Times, she described the extreme pressures faced at hospitals within her area.
It began with the statement ‘call to arms’ and asked staff to sign temporary contracts to work within emergency departments.
At Royal Liverpool Hospital, New Year’s Eve saw similarly distressing scenes of elderly and vulnerable people left in corridors because of a lack of beds and staff.
A nurse, who asked not to be named, said: ‘My grandma is almost 89 and she was on a trolley, in a corridor, from just before midnight on December 31 until 5pm on Monday January 2 – that’s 41 hours.
She said she was having to help other patients on the corridor who were crying out for help while others were trying to climb off their trolley.
She added: ‘There is not enough staff to look after people and I think if we hadn’t been there to feed and water my grandma she could have died there. A tea trolley came by at 5pm on one evening, there was no one else who came until 11am the next day.
‘I’d heard about how bad things are but to feel it first hand has just really knocked me sick.’
Directing her anger at the government, she suggested ministers should ‘try lying on a hospital corridor for 41 hours and see how they cope’.
David Melia, chief nurse at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘Like many emergency departments across the country, we continue to face an unprecedented demand on our services.
This map shows the NHS organisations which have declared critical incidents within the last few days
Paramedics have been forced to assemble makeshift wards in corridors of Aintree Hospital A&E due to a surge in demand
Some patients were forced to lie on the floor in the busy A&E due to a lack of beds
Patients were seen to be lying on the floor at Aintree Hospital’s A&E in Fazakerley, Liverpool
‘Our staff are working incredibly hard to provide safe care for patients in what are extremely challenging circumstances.’
He added: ‘Unless their condition is life-threatening, we are urging people not to attend the emergency department.
‘To help support our teams in caring for our sickest patients, local communities can help us by only using A&E when it is an emergency, and to contact NHS 111 to find alternative services if they have less urgent concerns.’
Last week grim images showed people lying on hospital floors because of a lack of space in A&E waiting rooms.
Other pictures showed paramedics tending to patients on trolleys in waiting areas and huge queues of ambulances with patients being treated and unable to get into the hospitals.
The President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has predicted that as many as 500 people a day are dying because of delays in emergency care.
Dr Adrian Boyle, believes waiting times for December will be the worst he has ever seen, with more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declaring critical incidents over the festive period.
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