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Patients 'treated in storerooms' due to hospital pressures, nurses warn

Published 20/06/2016

Nearly two-fifths of nurses have treated patients whose health was hit by malnutrition or food poverty, a survey says
Nearly two-fifths of nurses have treated patients whose health was hit by malnutrition or food poverty, a survey says

Mounting pressures on hospitals are leading to patients treated in storerooms, frail and elderly patients being moved around in the middle of the night and ambulances queuing outside A&Es, leading nurses have warned.

Major incidents in hospitals are usually only seen through the busy winter months but are now becoming a problem "all year round", the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said.

The College, which is holding its annual congress in Glasgow, said that across England, the hospital sector is feeling the strain of financial pressures and increased demand.

It highlighted a series of issues facing local hospitals which are "adding to the chaos" at hospitals across England. These include:

:: Beds being placed in corridors and patients treated in storerooms in order to move people out of A&E.

:: Ambulances queuing outside A&E units or the regular use of "jumbulances" - large ambulances which can accommodate multiple patients - to treat patients while they wait to enter the units.

:: Patients, often frail older people, being moved at night due to intense pressure for beds.

:: Hospitals running with no spare capacity at all.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN said: "Having once been the preserve of the worst weeks of winter, overwhelming pressure and major incidents have sadly become the new normal in our hospitals. Units are having to be closed and operations cancelled due to the level of demand when there is no extreme weather, and no major outbreaks of infectious diseases.

"Despite the best efforts and dedication of the staff, these pressures are affecting patients at every stage in their treatment.

"Every ambulance kept waiting outside A&E can mean someone in need waiting for help.

"Every patient kept for hours on a trolley in A&E because there are no ward beds free, lengthens that queue to get through the door.

"Every late admission adds to the chaos, with patients having to be moved from ward to ward at night.

"Every delayed admission can mean that the patient deteriorates and requires more care in the long run.

"The number of local major incidents is rising and is now a problem all year round.

"Sadly, this is a problem which perpetuates itself, with patients getting sicker and needing more care, then having to stay longer in hospital. It is time we had a serious look at how long hospitals can continue to function when they are consistently under-funded and under-staffed."

Janet Youd, an A&E nurse in Yorkshire and chair of the RCN emergency care association, said she couldn't guarantee patients would get safe care in an emergency department.

She said: "I have been an emergency care nurse for 25 years, and the news is that the attrition rate of emergency nurses leaving emergency departments is at a level it has never ever been before.

"Many emergency departments are struggling but managing to fill their shifts with expensive agency shifts, but they are not necessarily emergency nurses.

"That means that if you or I have an emergency today... you could go to an emergency department and it would be sheer luck that you had an emergency nurse there with the right skills and the right training to treat you."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The NHS is busy, but performing well despite the additional pressures of our ageing population - with 1.6 million more operations taking place each year compared to 2010 and nine out of 10 people seen in A&E within four hours.

"Patient experience has also improved, with 85% of patients now reporting that their care and treatment was 'good' or better.

"Patient safety remains our priority and we are determined to make the NHS the safest and most transparent healthcare system in the world."

An NHS England spokesman added: "While it is true that the NHS remains under pressure, April's performance figures show frontline services beginning to recover from a challenging winter, with A&E performance nearly 3% higher.

"The number of patients waiting more than four hours fell by 50,000 and more than nine out of 10 patients are now being admitted, treated or discharged within the target time."

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