Accident waiting to happen: A&E departments ‘on the brink of crisis’

Surveys from the Royal College of Nurses, NHS Confederation and others reveal full scale of the daunting task A&Es face just to 'get through the winter'

Accident and Emergency departments are understaffed, overworked, and could be brought to breaking point this winter by little more than a prolonged period of cold, a series of surveys have revealed.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it will be “very, very tough” just to “get through this winter”, following comments from his opposition counterpart Andy Burnham saying: “Warnings do not come more serious than this.”

A survey of leaders from the major health service providers, conducted by their membership body the NHS Confederation, found that a lack of public faith in other services is leading more and more people to go straight to A&E, in a “vicious spiral” of pressure on doctors and nurses.

As a result, fewer than half of the respondents (45.7 per cent) said their organisation is likely to meet targets for waiting times in the period from October to December.

The report said: “A prolonged period of cold, a rapid increase in the acuity of patients presenting in A&Es or a lengthy norovirus season would be all it would take to bring many departments to breaking point.”

The results, called Emergency care: an accident waiting to happen?, were published today by the Confederation.

In a Royal College of Nursing members’ survey, a staggering nine out of 10 nurses working in A&E said that current pressures were putting patients in danger.

With increased workload the primary reason blamed for the added strain, three quarters of nurses said the problems were being aggravated by people going to emergency departments when they could have been seen by their GP instead.

In a BBC 5 live investigation which surveyed hospital trusts across England, it has also been revealed that A&E departments are understaffed by an average of nearly 10 per cent.

For the 101 trusts which responded to a Freedom of Information request, there were 1,260 vacant, budgeted positions – the majority for nurses.

The situation was at its worst in London, where the greatest proportionate number of vacancies could be found in four of the capital’s trusts.

These problems being faced by A&E departments have not escaped the notice of voters, and yet another survey found that two thirds of the public believe there is a crisis and that it is putting patients at risk.

The poll, conducted by Survation, found that while 65 per cent blamed Government cuts and three quarters said NHS staff were doing their best while overworked, two thirds of those questioned felt consultants should be forced to work weekends and nights if it would solve the problem, and 43 per cent agreed those who refused should receive a pay cut.

Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, described A&E staffing as a “crisis” about which it had received many reports “for some time”.

“The impact for patient care is that there are fewer doctors to see them, which means that most patients may have to wait longer than we would ideally wish them to wait, in order to be seen,” he said.

“There's a delay in making key decisions and that in turn can have an implication for their recovery and wellbeing.”

Yesterday Professor Keith Willett, the doctor leading emergency services reform, said that up to 6.5 million people a year are wrongly going to A&E when they could be treated by GPs, paramedics or even chemists.

Prof Willett told Sky News that this accounted for 15 to 30 per cent of A&E patients.

He said many patients turn to A&E with routine medical problems because they are frustrated by out-of-hours services or because they cannot get quick enough appointments with their GP.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: “Warnings do not come more serious than this.

“David Cameron has left A&E on the brink of a serious crisis. We are already in the middle of the worst year in A&E for a decade and now it looks like the coming winter could be even worse.”

Mr Burnham quoted figures that showed almost a million patients had waited longer than the four-hour target in the last 12 months, with England's major A&E departments missing the target in 41 of the last 52 weeks.

He said: “Jeremy Hunt has been in post for one year… These are the damning statistics on his watch.

“He has left thousands of patients waiting for hours on end, stranded on trolleys in corridors and held in the back of ambulances.

“Patients and staff can't go through another year of this. This Health Secretary is failing them and he needs to get a grip or go.”

The Government has committed a £500 million bailout fund to the NHS in a bid to save A&E departments this winter, but Mr Hunt has still admitted it will be difficult to avoid long waits.

The Health Secretary said he was determined to ensure hospitals met targets and was taking action to support front line services facing unprecedented patient numbers.

“It is going to be very, very tough,” he told Sky News.

“But we can get through this winter. It is entirely possible to meet A&E targets, and I am determined we should.

“A lot of things are happening to give support to the front line. But that's not to say we are not worried about it, because it is going to be very tough, and we understand that.”

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?