On-going strain on Northampton A&E forces hospital to station nurses in its corridors 24/7 after 'busiest winter on record'
A Northampton hospital is preparing to permanently station nurses in its corridors just to deal with spillover patients from A&E.
Overcrowded emergency departments have meant many hospitals have had to stack patients in their corridors while they wait for treatment.
Now, to deal with demand, Northampton General Hospital is redirecting funding to staff their corridors 24/7.
New reports show how unrelenting pressure on the hospital's A&E department is leading to severe delays in treatment times for patients.
In February, 237 trolley-bound patients entering A&E waited between 8 - 12 hours to be dealt with. This is almost three times more than December 2016.
Additionally, one in five patients now spend more than four hours in A&E, and only 64 per cent have their condition assessed within 20 minutes.
The stacking of patients in corridors is related to how quickly ambulances can deliver their patients and hand them over to appropriate care. If they cannot do this, the paramedics must wait with the patient and cannot go out to new 999 calls again.
In February, over 350 ambulance crews in total had to wait over half an hour to hand over their patients. 60 of them had to wait more than an hour.
The strain on capacity at the 765-bed hospital and the complexity of bedded patients' conditions have been pointed to as common causes for delays.
Bed pressures also caused 38 operations to be cancelled in February after the hospital spent 12 days on red alert and 14 days in total on black alert. This meant hospital staff had to have 'crisis' meetings every few hours to assess their capacity and care priorities.
Staff vacancies across the hospital are also causing problems.
Northampton General Hospital is requesting that it use some of its winter funding to staff its corridors, provide immediate care and reduce waiting times.
A spokeswoman for Northampton General Hospital said:
“In keeping with the national picture, we’ve experienced our busiest winter on record, both in terms of people attending A&E and the proportion of those who need to be admitted for further assessment or treatment.
“Patients who arrive by ambulance are brought into our emergency department by the ambulance crews, who stay with them until they are assessed.
“This can mean that at times of extreme pressure, ambulance crews are delayed while they wait to carry out a formal hand-over and give us all the information they have about their patient.
“By allocating a member of the nursing team to care for waiting patients, we can release the ambulance teams and they can get back to the job of responding to emergency situations, leaving our patients in the care of our A&E team.
“As always, those patients who are critically unwell are treated immediately.
“First and foremost, it’s about making sure our patients are safe. We use screens to give as much privacy as possible when patients have to wait in corridor areas and we ensure they are as comfortable as possible while they are waiting.
“We’ve worked very constructively with the ambulance service to reduce handover times for the crews. We’ll continue to work with our partners and do all we can to minimise the impact on our patients of the sustained extreme pressure the urgent care system is experiencing.”
Chair of the Health, Adult Care & Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee Phil Larrett said: "This is a sign that hospitals need to be expanding their A&E services. At least they are doing something to help the patients but it's not ideal and it's not a permanent solution.
"The population of Northamptonshire has grown so much but the hospital hasn't grown with it.
"Hopefully, waiting times will be reduced but at the end of the day, it will take a bigger kind of action to deal with it properly.
"I have some sympathy with all A&E departments. Some patients can and should seek help elsewhere or should register and see their GPs first. There's an education gap over what an A&E department is there for."