Patients are waiting almost 50 hours for a bed in accident and emergency departments – including children with serious mental health problems – amid warnings a winter crisis in the NHS is already underway.
The Independent has seen information showing multiple patients at Royal Preston Hospital in Lancashire have faced lengthy waits for a bed in recent days with some spending in excess of 40 hours before getting a bed.
One patient last week spent at least 47 hours in the A&E with staff warning the long waits are a regular occurrence.
The situation is being replicated across England with multiple hospitals declaring incidents and seeing record waits for patients to see doctors. Some patients have waited 13 hours in the back of an ambulance before even getting into A&E.
At Ipswich Hospital, in Suffolk, a child under the age of 16 with serious mental health problems waited almost 48 hours in the A&E department there last week. The trust confirmed this was because of a lack of specialist mental health beds being available for children – a problem being reported across the NHS.
Across England, the NHS is facing severe bed pressures months before the peak winter pressure is usually seen. On Friday, 91 per cent of hospital beds were occupied in England – anything more than 85 per cent is considered an unsafe level.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of The Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said A&Es were already in a crisis and seeing “dangerous crowding” of patients.
“The winter presents a significant challenge for the health service,” she said, adding: “Staff are increasingly worried about the NHS’ ability to cope. The government need to recognise the potential crisis and support the health and care service as it tackles the challenges ahead.”
In Lancashire, the situation is so bad patients are regularly crowding in the A&E and facing long waits to be seen.
Information seen by The Independent showed a dozen patients spending over 24 hours in the A&E department last week, with one patient there for 47 hours. There were five patients in one shift waiting over 40 hours.
One worker said: “Almost every day there over 40 hour waits for beds. It is dangerous. We are unable to deliver satisfactory care to our patients and our registrations are at risk.
“We have had an unsafe workload for a number of years and are now on the brink of collapse.”
A spokesperson for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust said: “Reducing long waiting times in our exceptionally busy emergency department is a priority for the whole trust and for our wider health and care system with a number of schemes being progressed to increase capacity in the community.
“The safety of patients and the welfare of staff remain our top priorities, we have an established patient safety checklist to ensure that we keep doing the right things no matter how pressured we are, and very robust systems through which staff can register their concerns and we strongly encourage them to do this.”
The trust said more than 40 extra community beds were being opened up to help more patients be discharged. More beds in the trust have also been opened up but it is struggling with staffing levels and high demand, in line with other units across the country.
If a patient is waiting a long time in the unit they are regularly reviewed, the trust added, but it is seeing a growth in attendances 6 per cent up on the same period in 2019.
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