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More than half of A&E units forced to treat patients in corridors, study finds

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine analysed data from A&E units across Scotland (PA)
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine analysed data from A&E units across Scotland (PA)

Overcrowding in Scotland’s emergency departments has led to more than half treating patients in hospital corridors, research has found.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) analysed data to capture a “snapshot” of an average Monday night in A&E units during four weeks in March and April.

With 21 out of 29 Scottish departments providing information to the survey, 14 reported patients were being treated in corridors.

Of the 826 patients in attendance across the 21 emergency departments, 12.8% were being treated on trolleys in the corridor.

This amounted to 106 people.

Only one emergency department had any free cubicles at the time. The average cubicle occupancy was 182% and the maximum for any one department was 258%.

The RCEM said the problem of overcrowding is present across the UK.

Dr John-Paul Loughrey, its vice-president for Scotland, said: “The image of more than 100 people – 100 grandparents, parents, children and friends – receiving treatment on trolleys in corridors across Scotland at once is truly heart-breaking.

“But these finding are unfortunately not surprising for anyone who has worked in or visited an A&E in Scotland in the last few years.

“Studies like this are one of the few ways that we can try to show the true scale of the issue to the public and those with the power to change the devastating reality: the reality of coming to work and treating people, many elderly and vulnerable, in inappropriate conditions such as corridors.

“It is undignified and unsafe and it needs to change.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the RCEM, added: “The effects of overcrowding, including queues of ambulances outside hospital and people being treated on trolleys due to a lack of space, is not just an issue in Scotland, it is happening all over the UK.

“It is caused by an inability to discharge people who are ready to go home, as there aren’t appropriate social care options in place to do so safely.

“We will keep saying it until those in power do what they need to do to fix it – we need more staffed beds, improved staff retention and improved social care provisions so we can safely discharge people and therefore reduce dangerously long A&E wait times that are currently being endured.

“We will not stop calling for this change until it is made.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our health services continue to face sustained pressure and this is not unique to Scotland – with similar challenges being felt right across the UK.

“To help address this, the 2024-25 Scottish Budget provides over £19.5 billion for health and social care. Although challenges and difficult decisions remain, this has given our NHS a real terms uplift in the face of an extremely difficult financial landscape.

“Through our Urgent and Unscheduled Care Collaborative Programme, Scotland’s health boards are taking action to improve patient flow and reduce delays. In addition, the Health and Care Staffing Act, which came into effect in April, was introduced to help ensure appropriate staffing levels are in place across all health and care settings.”