‘The system is broken’: Sick patients forced to sit for hours outside A&E under blankets and heat lamps

‘They were very ill people, one was throwing up and another was shaking’

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 28 September 2021 12:44
Sick patients forced to sit for hours outside A&E under blankets and heat lamps

Sick patients have been forced to wait outside a hospital A&E department on chairs and wrapped only in blankets while being treated by nurses in shocking photographs and videos captured by one worried relative.

The situation, at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, is a regular occurrence, workers have told The Independent.

Footage shared with The Independent by a concerned member of the public shows one patient being cannulated, where a needle and intravenous line is inserted into a vein, while another patient has a monitor attached to track their vital signs.

Patients waiting outside the A&E were said to be extremely sick, with some vomiting and complaining of worsening symptoms.

“It was like something out of a horror movie,” said Maria, who has asked for her surname not to be used. “The system is completely broken from the beginning to the end. From the moment we tried to call the GP and they tried to get through to the hospital,” she said.

It was like something out of a horror movie. The system is completely broken from the beginning to the end

Maria, mother of patient

Her daughter needed a chest X-ray on Thursday and had to wait for four hours outside the hospital A&E because there was no space available inside.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital has been under severe pressure for months with patients queuing out the door earlier this year and patients waiting over 24 hours for a bed. One mental health patient was detained in the back of an ambulance for over 12 hours.

It is just one symptom of a nationwide summer crisis in the NHS, with the military called in to support ambulance services that have reported their busiest months ever. A&E units are also witnessing record levels of attendance.

Patients are being made to wait so regularly outside Addenbrooke’s A&E that heat lamps have been installed on the walls outside one entrance, used by non-Covid patients. The hospital has also built a marquee as a permanent space for waiting patients.

Patients left waiting outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital because there was no space inside the A&E unit

Maria’s 20-year-old daughter has recently recovered from a Covid infection in August but has struggled with recurrent chest problems and was deteriorating last week. She was made to wait outside a second area designated for Covid-related patients.

Maria said she took the photographs and the video because she wanted it to be seen by the public, adding: “I just couldn’t believe it. We had to call the GP hundreds of times just to get through. The GP then tried for two hours to contact the hospital to arrange for an X-ray.

“The GP kept apologising, she tried different numbers and eventually she got through and was told they were too busy and she told us we would have to go through A&E.”

When she and her daughter, who was suspected of having pneumonia, arrived at the hospital at 7pm they were told there was no space inside and they would have to wait outside.

“At first we didn’t even have a chair but then they brought a wheelchair. There were about six patients. They were very ill people, one was throwing up and another was shaking.”

As the hours wore on some gave up and went home, while others asked for blankets.

“I went home to get my daughter a coat, some blankets and something to eat. My brother is a doctor and he couldn’t believe it. I said it was like a horror movie.”

At 11pm, her daughter was seen and kept in by staff who told her mother it would still be hours before an X-ray was possible. She was discharged the next day with antibiotics for an infection in her lungs.

Patients wait under heat lamps outside Addenbrooke’s Hospital A&E department

One member of staff from the trust said patients queuing outside has become a daily occurrence. The clinician blamed poor discharges and moving patients through the hospital.

They said: “It’s about flow out of the hospital and reducing length of stay on the wards. Discharges occur too late in the day, ward rounds start too late and very few discharges at weekends.

“This is all compounded by reduced beds for social distancing and needing red and green zones. And the executive team wanting elective operations back to normal levels.”

Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, which runs the A&E unit, said its emergency department had reduced space inside because of the rules on social distancing.

It said all patients waiting are examined by a nurse and triaged with those considered most at risk being prioritised.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “We apologise to patients who have had to wait longer than we would like for treatment. Our emergency department has been experiencing extremely high demand. In addition, because of Covid safety and social distancing, the emergency department has a reduced number of treatment spaces and seats in waiting areas.

“Please support your NHS by using the right service at the right time, so that our emergency departments can keep providing care for people who have a genuinely urgent or emergency healthcare need. If you are unsure where to go for help, visit 111 online or call NHS 111."

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