Warning easing A&E pressure ‘will take years’

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RELIEVING winter pressures on A&E services in England will take up to five years, senior NHS officials have warned.

NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh told MPs it would “foolish” to claim there would be no repeat next winter of the problems which have seen hospitals fail to meet their target of seeing 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours.

Yesterday it emerged a nurse working at a Welsh casualty unit had warned pressures facing her colleagues were worse than those she had experienced serving on the frontline in Iraq.

Latest figures show 86.7 per cent of patients in England were seen in the four-hour period in the week ending January 4, with only two of 13 NHS trusts serving Yorkshire hitting the standard.

In evidence to the Commons Health Committee, Sir Bruce said it was clear that A&E units were under “considerable pressure”, with 20,000 more patients attending A&E during Christmas week than there were in 2013.

“In answer to the question ‘Can we tell you that next winter that we will be okay?’ I think it would be very foolish to sit here and say this because it is part of a three to five year programme,” he said.

Prof Keith Willett, the director of acute care for NHS England, said there had to be a “complete transformation” of the entire healthcare system if the pressures were to be alleviated in the long term. “It isn’t going to be a quick fix,” he said.

The no-holds-barred account of a nursing sister’s working life at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff was pinned to a staff noticeboard.

The nurse gave details of how a pregnant mother miscarried on the floor, a suicidal patient locked herself in the toilets and a woman suffered a suspected heart attack in the waiting area.

In the piece, the senior nurse said the unit was unable to cope with the amount of patients coming through the door due to a lack of beds and experienced staff.

The nurse, who spent six months in the emergency department of a field hospital during the second Iraq war, wrote: “I spent weeks in and out of the trenches being shelled, nursing soldiers under trolleys as the warning sirens went off. I know what stress is. I know what it is like to work under pressure and yet I can guarantee that the nurses with me in Emergency Unit today are facing higher levels of stress than we ever did in that war zone’.”

Adam Cairns, chief executive of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board and a former hospital boss in Yorkshire, said: “As difficult as it was to hear, it was a powerful motivator, so much so that it was shared widely with staff and has been used to inspire all of us in finding solutions to these significant challenges.”