‘NO more games with our A&Es,’ doctors demanded yesterday in the wake of the intense A&E crisis over the winter.
Doctors union, the BMA, said that A&E departments across England have experienced one of the worst winters on record, with the NHS missing its four-hour A&E waiting time figure every week since the beginning of November and 17 hospitals declaring major incidents due to overwhelming pressure.
Now new figures from the BMA’s quarterly Omnibus survey show that doctors on the ground have seen first-hand the effect of pressures on patient care, with 29 per cent experiencing a ‘black alert’ – issued when a hospital reaches capacity and has to turn away patients – an increase of 22 percentage points since the same period last year, and 48 per cent experiencing breaches in A&E targets.
This comes at a time when 65 per cent of doctors across both primary and secondary care are reporting increases in patient waiting times – a rise of 18 percentage points on the same time last year.
Yet the political response to the crisis in A&E departments has been a series of headline grabbing initiatives and sticking plaster policies to bail out accident and emergency departments, rather than developing a long-term, sustainable solution:
• August 2013: the Government announced a £500m bailout for struggling A&Es – this was not new money and was rather taken from elsewhere in the Department of Health’s ‘own efficiency savings’.
Even the Prime Minister conceded it ‘a short term measure’ and that more needed to be done to improve the NHS.
• November 2013: the Government confirmed it was injecting another £250m for the coming winter. At the time the Health Secretary said: ‘This is a serious, long-term problem, which needs fundamental changes to equip our A&Es for the future’.
• November 2014: the Government announced £300m worth of emergency funding for winter pressures, on top of £400m announced during the summer. A recent report found that less than one per cent of this money actually went to front line A&E services.
Commenting, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: ‘Rather than annual emergency bailouts that are designed more to chase headlines than offer a lasting solution to the crisis, we need a long-term plan to equip hospitals with the funding, staff and resources they need to meet rising demand.
‘It is also concerning that recent research from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has found that despite the fanfare only a small amount – one per cent – of the £700 million announced by the Government for emergency care last year was actually spent on emergency department services.
‘With a majority of hospitals in the red, this money is being used to plug other serious funding gaps and doesn’t make it anywhere near the frontline.
‘The result has been felt by both patients and doctors, as those who need care face increasing waiting times and doctors are left frustrated and managing excessive workloads.
‘Sticking plaster solutions won’t solve the long-term challenges faced by A&E. The time has come for the politicians to stop playing games with emergency care and commit to having an open and honest public debate about the future of the NHS.’