INTENSIVE Care units (ICUs) are suffering such a chronic shortage of beds and staff that four out of five ICUs are having to send patients to other hospitals, meaning seriously sick people are being transferred to another hospital just as their life- threatening condition means that every second counts. The horrifying statistics are the results of a survey of ICU consultants by the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine (FICM).
Dr Carl Waldmann, the dean of the FICM said: ‘It is never ideal to transfer patients at their sickest, but for the relatives transfers can be a daunting prospect, not least because they then have to travel long distances to spend time with their loved one.
‘This is an emotional drain for relatives at a time when they may already be at their most vulnerable.
‘Especially at this time of year, when winter pressures exacerbate an already beleaguered system, critical care services come close to the absolute limit of their ability to provide good patient care.
‘Without an open bed, which includes all the relevant critical care staff to safely manage that bed, intensive care units and high dependency units cannot admit patients.’
The survey found:
• 62% of ICU doctors said their unit did not have a full complement of critical care nurses. • Beds in ICUs are being shut every day because of staff shortages. About 40% of units have to close a bed or beds at least once a week, doctors say. • 79% of intensive care consultants think patients’ quality of care can suffer due to ICU understaffing. • Two-thirds (68%) fear patients’ safety is being compromised by widespread nurse shortages.
Meanwhile, the new NHS figures released yesterday show that this winter the NHS has come under unprecedented strain. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: ‘These figures should ring alarm bells – it is shameful that there has been a four-fold increase in the number of trusts leaving patients waiting on trolleys for over 24 hours.
‘This is the result of a chronically overstretched and underfunded NHS, with a lack of staff, facilities and capacity. ‘We urgently need the government to provide investment that would deliver the extra beds, staff and services the NHS so desperately needs.’
Dr Taj Hassan, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘Let’s be very clear. The current crisis in our Emergency Departments and in the wider NHS is not the fault of patients. ‘It is not because staff aren’t working hard enough, not because of the actions of individual trusts, not because of the weather or norovirus, not purely because of influenza, immigration or inefficiencies and not because performance targets are unfeasible.
‘The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis. ‘We need an adequate number of hospital beds, more resources for social care and to fund our staffing strategies that we have previously agreed in order to deliver decent basic dignified care.’