RCEM issues urgent warning as hospitals near capacity
Responding to publication of performance data for Emergency Departments in England in September 2020, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson said:
“We need to be clear about the scale of what we face as we go into winter. If we do not come together and take effective precautions, Covid will continue its explosion across the country; a devastating consequence of which could be the implosion of our NHS this winter.
“While performance is not near its worst, we are seeing extremely worrying signs as we head into winter. Our Emergency Departments must be safe places for our most vulnerable patients, and we cannot go back to the status quo of crowded departments and long waits.
“However, the data shows that we are gradually returning to this, which will put lives at risk. In Quarter 1 of 2020/21 there were 118,451 beds in the NHS in England. On 1 October 96% of these beds were occupied.”
Data for September 2020 also shows that:
- total beds occupied by confirmed Covid-19 patients has quadrupled over past month
- five times as many patients are on ventilators than the previous month
- four-hour performance at Emergency Departments is down by 6 percentage points since May 2020
- 12-hour waits have nearly quadrupled since May.
“It is extremely concerning to see Covid continue to spread at an increasing rate throughout the population. This will have serious repercussions for both the NHS and many families. Covid doesn’t just effect those who catch it. Its continued existence has very real and tragic outcomes for others.
“Emergency Departments frequently see patients who should not need to be there but have to because they've had their surgery or treatment postponed and are experiencing complications.
“While EDs will always be open to those seeking emergency care, if Covid cases continue to rise the NHS may be forced to scale back other routine activity to focus on the fight against it. This may mean that someone you love – your elderly asthmatic grandma, your brother with a heart condition, your two-year-old niece with leukaemia – may not be able to receive the regular treatment they desperately need.
“To prevent this situation, we need to look to each other, and look after each other, to make sure we all take basic precautions: maintain social distancing, wash your hands regularly, wear a mask. Doing these things could save the life – directly or indirectly – of someone you care about.
“Life for most of us is hard right now and will continue to be for some time. It is made harder when others seemingly ignore the rules, but the behaviours of others is no excuse not to stick to them. Those rules are intended to save lives and those rules will save lives if we all do our bit. We must look to ourselves to lead.
“At the start of the pandemic the government asked us to protect the NHS to save lives. It needs to make this message clear again to the public and set out a comprehensive and consistent strategy for the winter. Without this, we fear our Emergency Departments and the NHS will be overwhelmed.”