Accident and emergency at Northampton General Hospital had a ‘massive capacity shortage’ when a grandfather who later died was admitted, an inquest has heard.
A three-day inquest into the death of Michael Martin, aged 63, from Parklands, began today.
It is looking into the circumstances leading up to Mr Martin’s death on February 21, 2012 after he was taken to NGH with severe abdominal pain but did not see a doctor for more than five hours.
It is unclear at this stage whether the delays contributed to Mr Martin’s death from an aortic aneurysm, but staff giving evidence today acknowledged the department was stretched.
In a report, A&E consultant Dr John Trenfield, said: “There was a massive capacity shortage with patients held on trolleys in the corridor.”
Nurse, Fiona Hankinson, also told the hearing: “It was common at that time for patients to be held”.
Nurse Michelle Buckenham added: “It was extremely busy, but not outside normal levels”.
But asked if there was any system in place at the time to assist if nurses could not cope, she answered: “No”.
She later agreed that bed managers could, in theory, be approached for extra staff if wards elsewhere were appropriately staffed. However, when asked if that ever happened in practice, she said: “No”.
The inquest heard Mr Martin arrived at A&E by ambulance in severe pain at 2.56am and was assessed by nurses.
He was given paracetemol directly into his veins and his early warning score - a combination of readings such as blood pressure and breathing rate - was not dangerously high, but he was still in too much pain to move from his chair.
Northamptonshire Coroner Anne Pember said: “What I’m concerned about is that he was in such severe pain he couldn’t get onto the trolley. Was this not an additional indicator?”
Nurse Buckenham said “it can be taken into account” but the early warning score was the main means of assessing a patient’s condition.
NGH’s solicitor Philip Grey pointed out that very painful conditions such as broken legs are not necessarily life-threatening so pain is not always an accurate indicator of danger.
The inquest heard doctors were alerted after Mr Martin’s pain failed to subside, despite more medication.
However he wasn’t seen until 8.36am - more than five hours after arriving. The hospital’s target is to be dealt with within four hours.
Although there were many A&E nurses on duty, Dr Sabia Iqbal, the first doctor to see Mr Martin, said she believed there were only two doctors covering about 30 patients on the shift.
Mr Grey said there is now a red flag system where high-risk patients, such as those who are overweight like Mr Martin - as well as pregnant or diabetic patients - are monitored extra carefully.
The inquest is due to continue until Thursday.