Hospitals are fulfilling their promise to cut the length of time patients have to wait on trolleys – by making them wait on beds instead.
Alan Milburn, Secretary of State for Health, has told hospitals and NHS trusts that no one should be left untreated on a trolley for more than four hours.
But community health councils, which monitor the NHS, say that hospitals are now physically moving beds into accident and emergency units because beds – unlike trolleys – do not appear in the official statistics.
As a result, patients are waiting up to 50 hours in casualty units instead of being given a place on an appropriate ward, and are not counted in the Government's figures.
"People on beds are waiting 50 or 60 hours. It's very, very pernicious," said Malcolm Alexander, the chief officer of Southwark Community Health Council, which conducts a regular survey of patient waiting times across London and Surrey.
"It's all a matter of redefinition. We say they're waiting for many hours in A&E. It may benefit some patients, but for the most part that's not satisfactory. The fact is they haven't got enough proper beds on the wards because they haven't got resources."
"That's the psychology of numbers," said Sue Burt, an A&E sister and council member for the Royal College of Nursing. "Patients aren't counted as waiting if they're on a bed. And that's what happens."
Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on health, said the Government's trolley target is distorting the way hospitals organise treatment. A&E units are not acceptable places to leave patients, he said, even if they are on beds rather than trolleys.Reuse content