Wednesday, 1 March 2017

The A&E Waiting Time Issue

by Monideep Ghosh

According to the BBC, last month saw the worst performance by the Accident and Emergency department since 2004. This headline is primarily based on the consistently rising waiting times patients must endure in order to be seen and treated. The golden ‘4 hour wait’ is often ridiculed regularly in the media and supported by the statistic that ‘474,453 patients waited +4 hours for a bed 2015-16’ (BBC) which may symbolise the over ambitious targets set by the NHS. However, often the NHS, in my opinion, are unfairly criticized for the department and shed the blame for issues that are quite simply beyond their control.

A salient source to this abysmal waiting time is ‘bed blocking’. Patients who have been seen and tendered to cannot be discharged and therefore occupy a precious bed that could be used for a more useful situation. The reason for this varies but is more commonly associated with people who are in the department due to extreme circumstances such as domestic abuse, provocative attacks and self harm. This leads to them not having a place to return to and resulting in social services being summoned which takes up a long period of time and may not be very responsive over the weekend when A&E is at its busiest. Homeless people are also a common source to ‘bed blocking’ and enter A&E in large numbers resulting from harmful consequences due to addiction all the way to basic sufferance from conditions such as hypothermia. This is unhelpful to the department as they cannot be simply be discharged as staff must ensure the safety of the individual and thus showing how the NHS is not entirely at fault for this lack of beds issue.

Additionally, the lack of GP’s available also causes many people to attend A&E despite having a mild issue and as a result causing protocol to be performed on them (compulsory tests for any person who enters the emergency department). This coupled with the ageing population, is a serious issue and is a reason why I, and many others, believe a seven day GP programme should be implemented as soon as possible in order to meet the demand of basic illnesses and hence enabling A&E to be solely for exactly what it stands for ‘Accident and Emergency’. The GP waiting time is also on the rise as the average time is 13 days with the majority having to wait up to four months for an appointment. With the average life expectancy increasing by thirteen years since the inception of the NHS, a system must be introduced to maintain this population that will obviously require healthcare.

Finally, the quality of care given by the NHS is exceptional and for this to be executed time is required and patience is required by the ‘patients’. Filling out the friends and family forms in A&E as part of my weekly volunteering programme, has allowed me to see how patients feel about their time in the Emergency department. Approximately, 90% of all patients applauded the A&E department for its efforts and praised the excellent treatment they received from all staff. There were obvious complaints about waiting times but they would rather be delayed and receive the level of care they did than the other way round. The thorough work done by doctors, nurses etc. should not be a reason for the press and media to attack the waiting times of A&E. Despite this, there are glaring issues that the government in conjunction with the NHS must tackle in order to overcome this media adversity with the Accident and Emergency Department.

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