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Long A&E wait times led to almost 14,000 deaths last year in England: RCEM

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The college has found that 65 per cent of people waiting 12 hours or more in A&E were patients waiting for a hospital bed

In 2023, almost 14,000 people in England are estimated to have died due to excessive waits in emergency departments, averaging more than 260 deaths per week, according to new figures from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

The RCEM estimate is based on a large study of NHS patients published in the Emergency Medicine Journal in 2021, which found one excess death for every 72 patients who spent eight to 12 hours in an A&E department.

Following a Freedom of Information audit of NHS trusts, the college has found that 65 per cent of people waiting 12 hours or more in A&E were patients waiting for a hospital bed.

NHS data for England revealed that over 1.5 million patients waited 12 hours or more in major emergency departments last year. Based on the RCEM calculation, this indicates that over a million of those patients were waiting for a bed.

Looking solely at patients awaiting admission, the RCEM has calculated that an average of 268 excess deaths are likely to have occurred each week in 2023, which is just 17 fewer than in 2022, when a severe flu outbreak and Covid cases overwhelmed the NHS.

The college added that the figures didn’t include thousands of patients delayed in the back of ambulances, but they are also at risk of harm.

Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the RCEM, expressed concern that prolonged waits continue to pose a serious risk of harm to patients.

“Small improvements in four-hour access standard performance are not meaningful when there are so many people staying more than 12 hours.

“Effort and money should go where the harm is greatest,” he said, as quoted by The Guardian. 

Dr Boyle pointed out that due to the lack of hospital capacity, patients remain in emergency departments longer than required, and are being cared for by emergency department staff, often in clinically inappropriate areas like corridors or ambulances.

“Patients and staff should not bear the consequences of insufficient funding and under-resourcing. We cannot continue to face inequalities in care, avoidable delays and death,” he added.

However, an NHS spokesperson suggested that the cause of excess deaths could be attributed to various factors, emphasising the importance of the ONS experts to continue to analyse these factors.

Additionally, the spokesperson noted a significant increase in the demand for A&E services, indicating that attendances in February surged by 8.6 percent compared to the previous year, while emergency admissions increased by 7.7 percent.

 

 

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