A heart-breaking picture of 4-year-old Jack Williment-Barr sleeping under coats on a hospital floor waiting hours to be seen was published on Monday (December 9), has gone viral and made headlines in newspapers across the country.
But Jack’s plight is no isolated incident. After Jack’s image went viral, a number of other stories of severely ill children facing interminable trolley waits have emerged, including nine-month-old Lily, who waited more than 6 hours to be seen after weeks of illness that had developed into an ear infection, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Meanwhile, a leaked NHS email revealed that a 12-year-old girl with learning disabilities was forced to wait 57 hours for a specialist bed to become available.
And it’s not only children who are forced to wait hours to receive care – in November, a 99-year-old war veteran told of an agonising 10 hour wait on an A&E trolley, which left him in what he called “excruciating pain” as he waited to be treated for gall bladder problems.
The stories are countless – and before being dismissed as mere anecdote, hard data shows that the NHS is well and truly at breaking point as overstretched services struggle to cope under years of underfunding.
In a shock new report, it is estimated that nearly 5,500 patients have died over the last three years after languishing in NHS A&E departments waiting to be seen.
The research from leading NHS doctors has directly attributed the deaths of 5,449 people since 2016 to being forced to wait between six and 11 hours in hospital corridors for a bed.
Critically, the analysis of the care of more than 4m people treated at A&E in England over the last three years, found that those 5,449 deaths were not caused by the patient’s condition but specifically happened because of the length of time they had to wait.
“The research shows that delays in emergency departments are harmful for patients and lead to very poor patient experience, and also involve a risk of death, that we have tried to quantify,” one of the researchers, A&E consultant Dr Chris Moulton told the Guardian.
“Emergency doctors like me are keen to emphasise that delays in emergency departments are bad for patients and should be avoided at all costs.”
Adding to the growing evidence of an NHS beyond crisis point, the Labour Party today (December 10) published a dossier highlighting a number of a risks to patient safety within the NHS taken from 120 board Trust papers.
These included East Chesire Trust, whose board noted that “if there are not enough CTG machines [for recording fetal heartbeat] to monitor high risk pregnancies on the maternity unit in the antenatal and intrapartum periods, then there is a risk that fetal compromise may not be identified in a timely manner”.
In Newcastle upon Tyne, an extreme risk of radiologist shortages has been reported, which will impact breast cancer screening, and in Morecambe Bay, there are high levels of backlog maintenance on ageing equipment which trust board papers said have created “unsuitable environments for safe clinical care”.
Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said that hospital delays and risks to patient safety, which have reached record-breaking levels, can only be tackled by political change.
“Wait times that in thousands of cases have led to deaths don’t just happen in a vacuum – they’re the result of a combination of government failures, from chronic underfunding of the NHS to failing to take action amid an alarming recruitment and retention crisis.”
“Instead of facing up to the crisis head-on, prime minister Boris Johnson shamefully not only ignores the evidence of severely ill children being forced to wait in hospital corridors, he actively tries to suppress this evidence. His sense of entitlement truly knows no bounds,” he added.
“The choice for voters on Thursday is clear – we can choose either a sustainable future for the NHS, with proper, long-term funding and staffing; or we can elect a future where the health service, our greatest collective achievement as a country, is starved of the resources it needs, and pillaged by the US and private interests,” Jarrett-Thorpe went on to say. “The time to save the NHS is running out, and it’s only through a Labour government that there will be any hope for patients and health staff across the country; or else we face another lost decade of decline and distress for one of our most cherished institutions.”