NHS hospital wards on 'brink of collapse' as number of beds falls by a third and doctors struggle to cope with 37% rise in patients
Elderly patients are being shunted between beds 'like parcels', the Royal College of Physicians says
They are woken up in the middle of the night and made to walk in pyjamas to another department
10:55 GMT, 13 September 2012
Elderly patients are being shunted between hospital wards ‘like parcels’ because of a shortage of beds, say doctors who have warned the current system is on 'the brink of collapse'.
Frail patients are frequently woken up in the night and made to walk to another department in their pyjamas because someone else needs their bed, a damning report has found.
On occasions, they are also being discharged in the middle of the night and sent home in taxis just to make space on wards.
Damning: Some elderly people are being discharged in the middle of the night and sent home in taxis just to make space on wards
The Royal College of Physicians claims that the number of hospital beds has fallen by a third in the last 25 years.
Yet over the same time the number of seriously ill patients being admitted through accident and emergency departments has risen by more than 37 per cent.
Care in hospitals is on ‘the brink of collapse’ due to a shortage of staff, beds and poor organisation, says the report published today.
In particular, it warns that hospitals are failing to look after patients properly at evenings and weekends, with many senior doctors and staff just clocking on during office hours.
Some doctors admit they feel ‘relieved’ if they return to the hospital on Monday morning and there have been no catastrophes over the weekend, when care is so shambolic.
The college’s president, Sir Richard Thompson, said patients were being passed around ‘like parcels’ and ‘dominoes’.
He added: ‘This is no way to run a health service. One doctor told me his trust does not function well at night or at the weekend and he is “relieved” that nothing catastrophic has happened when he arrives at work on Monday morning. Excellent care must be available to patients at all times of the day and night.’
He also said that it was not uncommon for elderly patients to be moved between wards five times during their stay because their beds were needed by more urgent cases.
Often the elderly patients – many of whom have dementia – may initially be put on a specialist ward, for example treating liver problems or strokes, even if they do not suffer from that illness.
Moved to free up space: The number of hospital beds has fallen by a third in the last 25 years, according to the Royal College of Physicians
This means that when another patient is brought in during the night who does need to be on that ward the person will be moved to free up the bed. Each time the confused, elderly patient is placed under the care of a new team of doctors and nurses, who are unfamiliar to their condition and needs.
Additionally, the report said that hospital staff often see the elderly as ‘unwelcome’ and think they ‘shouldn’t be there’, even though they comprise two thirds of patients.
Professor Tim Evans, one of the report’s authors who is also a consultant in intensive care medicine at the Royal Brompton hospital, in London, said: ‘This evidence is very distressing. It is increasingly clear that our hospitals are struggling to cope with the challenge of an ageing population with multiple, complex diseases.’
He warned that if steps were not taken to improve hospitals, there may be other scandals such as that which occurred at Mid Staffordshire NHS trust, where hundreds died due to poor care between 2005 and 2009.
‘There will not be some cataclysmic overnight explosion but there will be a gradual increase in the sorts of tragedies that we’ve heard about at Mid Staffs,’ he added.
A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘People with dementia occupy a quarter of hospital beds, yet constantly we hear that they face poor quality care from staff not trained in dementia care.
‘Bearing this in mind, these latest findings are alarming but, unfortunately, not surprising.’
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: ‘It is completely wrong to suggest that the NHS cannot cope – the NHS only uses approximately 85 per cent of the beds it has available, and more and more patients are being treated out of hospital, in the community or at home.
‘But it is true that the NHS needs fundamental reform to cope with the challenges of the future. To truly provide dignity in care for older people, we need to see even more care out of hospitals.
That's why we are modernising the NHS and putting the people who best understand patient's needs, doctors and nurses, in charge.’