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Older patients facing longest waits for emergency care

Older people are facing longer waits for emergency care than other age group, according to a new report by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

Older people are facing longer waits for emergency care than other age group, according to a new report by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

Indeed, the Right Place, Right Care report highlights that in 2022, the mean length of stay in an emergency department for a person over the age of 80 was 15 hours.

The British Geriatrics Society (BGS) is now urging health leaders to take action to ensure that older people presenting to emergency care services this winter “have better experiences than last year.”

Highest level of long waits for emergency care recorded in 2022

The report reveals that patients are being disadvantaged by an urgent and emergency care system that does not have adequate capacity at every stage.

The result is too many patients are in the wrong place for their needs and this creates inefficiency, waste, poor patient experience and avoidable harm.

Emergency departments across the UK reported the highest level of long waits in 2022, with more than 1.8 million people waiting for more than 12 hours before they were seen.

Patients were also waiting too long in ambulances, with 66,500 patients in December waiting for more than an hour before they were handed over to a clinician in an emergency department. This compares with 20k who had this experience in December 2019.

Furthermore, in July, all 10 ambulance services in England reached ‘black alert’ status, and the RCEM warned that the NHS was at risk of breaking its fundamental promise to the public to deliver emergency care in a timely way.

Cross-government strategy for preventing ill health is desperately needed

The report makes a series of recommendations for the next government to enable it to work with the health service to improve care. This includes:

  • Developing and promoting strategies to improve the retention of healthcare workers
  • Reducing the bed occupancy of acute and psychiatric hospitals to 85%
  • Increasing the number of staffed beds in appropriate specialties.

Dr Sarah Clarke, President of the Royal College of Physicians says the report clearly highlights that there aren’t enough resources to meet patients’ needs, and the government must now work to ensure we retain and recruit more doctors to ensure capacity challenges are met.

However, she highlights that a key priority for the government must be to keep people healthy for longer, so that they do not need emergency care in the first place.

She said: “This report reinforces the message to all political parties that patients are not receiving the level of quality care they should be able to expect, and that doctors and other clinicians are trained to deliver, because there aren’t enough resources to meet those needs.

“We all need to work together now to make sure healthcare workers stay in the NHS, to make improvements to services in the right way, and to make sure we have the capacity where it is needed. But most of all, we need to keep people healthy in the first place and that’s why a cross-government strategy for preventing ill health is a must.”

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