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Ministers are being warned of a “looming crisis” in accident and emergency as patient numbers hit highest levels since records began.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has warned emergency care could soon face a crisis “worse than any previous winter” and they urged the government to take urgent action to shore-up NHS services.
It comes after new figures released by NHS England show almost 1.5 million people attended emergency departments in June – the highest ever figure for the month since records began.
A further 400,826 were admitted to hospital via emergency departments over the same period, also the largest recorded June figure.
Dr Kathering Henderson, RCEM president, said the situation was “seriously challenging” for frontline medics and warned overcrowding increased the risk of Covid and non-Covid patients mixing.
“We have a serious problem in urgent and emergency care. We are deeply concerned. We are facing record breaking figures in the high summer. We can only begin to imagine what this winter may bring,” she said.“We are facing record breaking attendances with a tired workforce and fewer beds; it is seriously challenging. Busy departments are a threat to patient safety, it increases the chance of crowding and corridor care, this risk is significantly increased if covid and non-covid patients are sharing the space for long periods of time.”
Henderson claimed the record attendance figures put the NHS at risk of facing a crisis worse than those seen during winter.
“We ask that there is a transparent discussion about how the whole of the health service deals with the current levels of demand,” she said.
“Emergency care does not happen in a vacuum but is often the canary of the system. Managing demand in Primary care, the elective backlog and what is happening at the front doors of hospitals is all connected and there is urgent need for a plan that balances these needs in a way everyone can understand.
She added: “The data show what is happening on the ground, and it is likely that things will worsen in the coming months, especially as we enter the winter. The government must realise there is a looming crisis and take swift and urgent action – this is critical ahead of winter.”
Responding to the figures, Dan O’Carroll, a doctor in emergency medicine, tweeted: “Current situation is entirely predictable and unsustainable.
“Patients and staff will come to harm.”
The warnings come amid growing concern that soaring Covid infections could place further pressure on NHS services in the coming months.
Despite lower hospitalisations due to the vaccine rollout, health secretary Sajid Javid admitted infections could reach 100,000 per day by late summer, increasing the risk of further hospital admissions or people seeking urgent care.
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