NHS accident and emergency departments could be in line for their ‘worst winter yet’ due to rising demand, a lack of doctors and overcrowding on hospital wards.
Bernadette Garrihy, a College of Emergency Medicine board member, dismissed Government moves to scale back the pressure on A&E as ‘a drop in the ocean.’
She also warned that doctors are increasingly concerned about their ability to provide a ‘safe and quality service’ during the winter months.
Calling for far-reaching changes, Dr Garrihy said that patients should only attend A&E as a last resort. She also called on the NHS and social services to work on a seven-day basis and to ensure adequate care provision on evenings and weekends.
Dr Garrihy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are getting ready for what may be our worst winter yet, and we have been warning about this for a number of months.
‘As we have had data last week from the National Audit Office, we know that our attendances are going up, we know that our rate of admission is going up, we know that the complexity of the cases we are seeing is increasing.’
She added that with severe weather on the way, the incidence of infections – such as those to respiratory tracts as well as winter vomiting – can put departments under a great deal of pressure.
She also admitted that much of the problem is a result of patients going to casualty when they could be more easily be dealt with at a GP’s surgery.
Dr Garrihy said that patients are either unaware of alternative avenues of care, or these are simply not available, leading to under-staffed and over-worked casualty departments.
This is adding to the ‘toxic’ over-crowding caused by bed-blocking and a marked lack of senior medical staff.
‘This, in the face of rising demand is a real issue for us. We are concerned about providing a safe and quality service this winter,’ she said.
Asked whether Government measures to ease the pressure on A&E were enough, Dr Garrihy said: ‘It is far from enough. It is a drop in the ocean really.
‘We are very much looking forward to the results of the urgent care review, because we hope that this will recommend some sweeping changes.’