BMA warn more than 1 million patients face long A&E waits in ‘worst-ever’ winter

More than a million patients could face long waits in A&E as the NHS experiences its “worst-ever” winter, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

A worst-case scenario based on previous NHS data suggests more than a million patients could experience waits in excess of four hours at emergency departments, the union said.

Almost a third of a million patients could also end up on trolleys as they wait for treatment.

Interviews with medics for the BMA’s Doctor magazine saw one describing how patients have suffered cardiac arrests in corridors as they waited for treatment.

The Midlands emergency medicine consultant said the summer had been “absolutely brutal”, adding: “It’s really corrosive for staff because they are coming into work with patients lining the corridor – we have been putting patients onto bits of corridor we have never used before – we are actually expanding into new areas.

“There have been cardiac arrests on the corridor in a number of places.

“We are completely under the cosh and I don’t think there’s an emergency department in England or Wales that thinks that patient care isn’t going to suffer over winter.”

Another south-west specialty trainee in emergency medicine said conditions were “not safe”.

The comments came after Nottingham University Hospitals Trust declared a “critical incident” this week due to pressures on its emergency services.

The BMA said a potentially cold winter, bad flu season and the impact of Brexit could have a devastating effect on the health service this winter.

Simon Walsh, its emergency medicine lead, said the union’s analysis showed 10,000 more beds were desperately needed.

He added: “It is notable that even the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has recently acknowledged that we need to go into winter with more hospital beds than last year.

“The problem, of course, is that trusts don’t have the funding or staff to do that, so what is required is for the Government to acknowledge the scale of the problem and to fund these additional beds and staff before it’s too late.”

BMA chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul (pictured) added: “Enough is enough. Right across the health service, trusts and GP practices will be bracing themselves for what looks set to be the worst winter the NHS has ever endured.

“Patients should not fear needing hospital care or being able to see their GP, nor should they have to accept that they may spend hours on a trolley in an emergency department, waiting to be treated.”

The BMA has launched its manifesto for health ahead of the General Election, calling for health spending to be increased by at least 4.1% each year and for the current pensions system – which is seeing senior doctors reduce their hours to avoid large tax bills – to be scrapped.

It also wants the public to have the final say on a Brexit deal and for safe staffing levels to have a legal footing.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said: “As the NHS hurtles towards another monumentally busy winter period, we are facing a ticking timebomb where vital shifts might not be filled because of the ongoing pensions crisis.

“We welcome the Department of Health and Social Care’s commitment to introduce changes to the NHS pensions scheme for senior doctors but we cannot afford to wait until April for these to be rolled out given that vacancies are high, staff are understandably refusing to take on extra shifts and demand for services is growing.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Doctors on the frontline are confirming what patients are telling us every day – the NHS is in crisis under the Tories and you can’t trust anything they say.

“Already, waiting lists are at 4.4 million and, in the last year, shamefully over 600,000 patients languished on trolleys in corridors not able to get a bed after Tory bed cuts of over 15,000.

“Ministers should apologise to every patient for this coming winter of misery.”

Paul Scully, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “We are investing record amounts into the NHS and building 40 new hospitals to help our NHS cope with increasing demand and ensure patients continue to get world class care. We can only afford do this because of our careful management of the economy.

“Labour are yet again scaremongering on the NHS and shamelessly stoking fear among vulnerable people – all to distract from the fact that with their confused plans for two more referendums in 2020, they wouldn’t give the NHS the focus and attention it needs.”

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