Hospital Dr News

Emergency Departments in the NHS already suffering from increased winter pressures

A report from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine shows that Emergency Departments are already under greater winter pressure than last year – with winter having barely just begun.

The ‘Winter Flow Report’ analyses performance data collected from over 50 NHS Trusts from across the UK, over a six month period from October to March, and reveals the extent of the problems experienced by emergency departments in the winter season.

Provisional data submitted so far suggests average performance against the four hour target is down by over 4% from the same period last year.

Released in anticipation of the upcoming winter season, the 2015/16 report finds that:

  • overall 4 hour performance was just 85.83% – nearly 10% below the expectation of 95%.
  • to cope with demand hospitals cumulatively had to find an extra 600 beds overall
  • there were 250 instances of delayed transfers of care (when a patient is ready to go home or move to a less acute stage of care but is prevented from doing so) per week creating exit block for the system

Rather than simply look at four hour performance – a metric the College believes is an important system indicator, but not the whole story – the project collected a wider range of data to explore the other factors that affect Emergency Departments and patient ‘flow’.

In addition to type one four hour performance figures, Trusts were asked to submit on a weekly basis data on: the number of acute beds in service; the number of cancelled elective operations; and, the number of patients in their trust who no longer medically need to be in hospital.

President of the College, Dr Taj Hassan said: “It’s common knowledge that the NHS – already struggling with unprecedented financial difficulties and insufficient resources – is under greater pressure in winter, but we wanted to know to what extent and dig deeper than the usual performance figures.

 

“The report shows that the greatest challenge to the four hour standard is clearly with issues of bed availability, which is exacerbated by increased delays in transfers of care. Last year showed that these delays – predominately attributable to a lack of provision of community and social care – rose significantly over the winter months.

“We are already seeing Emergency Departments struggling this winter, with performance already worse than the same period last year. Unless action is taken, patients will continue to suffer as a result of inadequate resources. Crowded departments compromise the ability of staff to do even some of the most basic tasks well.”

The College repeated its calls for additional funding for social care and an increase in Emergency Medicine staffing.

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