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Doctors describe impact on patients of bed shortages in shocking dossier

‘Least bad’ patients asked to sleep in corridors and investigations cancelled as units turned into makeshift ‘wards’

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Patients are dying because they cannot access specialist care in hospitals struggling to cope and overflowing with patients awaiting discharge, a damning report published by the Royal College of Physicians says.

The report ‘Against the odds; Experiences from the NHS frontline’ collates first-hand experiences from hospital doctors who have been working the NHS frontline over the last couple of months to illustrate the intense pressure the NHS is under.

“Patients are dying as a result of not accessing specialist care, as the hospitals are jam-full,” said one doctor. “We started the day 73 beds down…,” said a second.

Another doctor explained how staff are attempting to accommodate patients by setting up makeshift ‘wards’ in corridors and treatment areas, putting them out of action. Each ward in the hospital decides which is the “least bad” patient to approach to ask to sleep on a bed in the corridor, the doctor explained. “We have a plan for which nurse takes responsibility for taking observations – they are recorded in ‘the corridor folder’. This certainly qualifies under the ‘things I never expected to see in my lifetime’ category.”

The doctor added that the hospital got so full in A&E that they ran out of corridors to place people and had to open up endoscopy to allow people to wait on trolleys there. “This now happens regularly and has an impact on patients requiring endoscopy for cancer,” the doctor said, “and it is resulting in routine and regular cancellations of the endoscopy service.”

Another doctor described how one patient (a single parent with a spinal cord injury) spent more than four months waiting for a social care package to be put in place “that her family were bringing in Ikea furniture to make her hospital bed area more ‘homely’.”

Doctors are having to work much longer shifts to ensure patients are safe and cared for, putting themselves at risk of burnout, the report adds. “Many of my colleagues who were on six-hour shifts for wards (…) were here for 10 hours… I will be doing the same tomorrow and until we have a safer position… my acute physician colleague had to work as the only medical registrar for the whole shift – as well as doing the consultant role,” said one doctor.

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre said: “‘Against the odds’ not only shines a spotlight onto the real experiences of consultant physicians when facing bed shortages, staff shortages and a lack of resources, but also shows their extraordinary dedication to duty, knowing as they do that patient safety depends on it. I am so proud of our members for their commitment and grace under pressure, but it should not have to be like this – we need the government to start listening, investing, and supporting the NHS to give patients the service they deserve.”

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