A&E departments in East London struggle to hit targets despite 55% fall in visits

Queen’s Hospital in Romford and King George Hospital in Goodmayes collectively dealt with fewer   Accident & Emergency patients within the required 4 hour waiting time target in April, compared with the same month in 2019. This despite a huge 55% decrease in the number of people attending A&E departments at the hospitals.

In April of this year, Accident & Emergency departments at the two hospitals operated by Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust attended to only 77% of the 11,281 patients admitted, within the required four-hour timeframe set out by the NHS. In April 2019 A&E departments at the two hospitals attended to over 80% of the far higher number of 25,618 patients that attended.

These numbers raise several concerns for medico-legal specialist, Jason Brady, of Blackwater Law, who says:

“In April, 2,591 people attended Queen’s and King George Hospital’s Accident & Emergency Departments and waited more than four hours to be admitted, transferred or discharged. That is 2,591 people whose diagnosis, care and treatment may have been impacted.”

“April 2020 saw attendances at A&E departments at Queen’s and King George Hospitals fall by 55% compared to the same month a year ago, but the hospitals still could only admit, transfer or discharge 77% of patients within four hours, against an NHS target of 95%. As A&E attendances increase in line with the easing of lockdown measures, I am concerned as to the ability of A&E departments to cope with the increase in demand on their services and the timeliness of care that will be provided. These services should continue to be resourced as much as possible alongside the Trust’s response to the Coronavirus situation.”

“NHS Trust management clearly have an extremely difficult task at the moment, but Accident & Emergency departments provide an important service and should receive the resources they need as much as possible to deal with patients in a timely fashion. Delays in diagnoses and treatment within A&E departments can impact on conditions and injuries or lead to unnecessary injuries and symptoms and it can sometimes lead to loss of life.”

Mr Brady states,

“We would not want non-coronavirus NHS patients to be indirectly affected due to the virus.”

There is a real concern that people with illnesses other than coronavirus, who need urgent medical attention, are avoiding GPs and hospitals – in part explaining the fall in A&E attendances. These include people who may have had a stroke, heart attack or suffered some other serious ailment, illness or injury. The British Heart Foundation and Stroke Association have, amongst other organisations, expressed serious concerns at the dramatic falls in the number of people presenting themselves with early symptoms for diagnosis and treatment.

Attendances are however likely to be deferred, rather than avoided. Demand for GP and A&E services will see a resurgence and NHS trusts will need to effectively and efficiently contend with this alongside their coronavirus response.

If people continue to avoid or defer medical attention when symptoms of an illness first present, or they suffer an injury, their condition is more likely to be a critical or serious one when they do eventually present themselves, adding additional strain to A&E resources.