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A study carried out by doctors at the Royal Bolton Hospital has unearthed a troubling correlation between extended wait times for patients in Accident and Emergency (A&E) and an elevated mortality risk.
The research, recently published in the Emergency Medical Journal, examined some five million visits to A&E departments across England between April 2016 and May 2018, and reveals that patients who waited more than six hours were on average 8% more likely to die as a result of their conditions within 30 days. Assessed within the broader context of the worst-ever recorded wait times for England’s A&E departments, the findings raise serious concerns about the standard of care delivered in our hospitals. Millions of patients could potentially be entitled to claim for medical negligence or delayed diagnoses and the harm suffered as a result of being forced to wait for urgent medical attention.
Current NHS targets, introduced in 2004, state that 95% of patients attending an A&E department should be seen within four hours of arrival. The NHS has long struggled to meet these targets, with more than a quarter of patients forced to wait longer than this in 2021.
The researchers found that those forced to wait 8-12 hours to be admitted to hospital can expect even worse outcomes; with the 30-day mortality rate rising to 10%. This translates to an extra death per every 82 patients and illustrates the devastating consequences to families when the NHS fails to meet its duty of care to those who rely on it.
The study’s lead author Dr Chris Moulton acknowledged the limitations of the 30-day mortality risk metric, indicating that the study did not account for the effects of patients’ conditions deteriorating beyond the assessment period as a result of lengthy A&E waits, nor the unpleasant experience of waiting for care. This could indicate that millions more English patients could be eligible to make delayed diagnosis or medical negligence claims as a result of being forced to wait for long periods in A&E, even if the adverse effects they suffered did not result in death.
Dr Moulton also cited plausible reasons to associate the delayed hospital admissions experienced by patients with more adverse outcomes. These included delayed access to treatment resulting in longer stays in hospital and therefore an elevated risk of acquiring an infection when surrounded by other sick patients. Extended A&E waiting periods also make it more likely that affected patients may be admitted to hospital at night when fewer staff are on duty, meaning each can devote less time to their patients and the associated risk of medical negligence is therefore higher.
Head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Katherine Henderson welcomed the research, acknowledging that lengthy A&E wait times compromised patient safety. She also warned that a lack of clarity surrounding what A&E staff should focus on was unlikely to be improved by current Government plans to overhaul the metrics used to assess patient wait times.
This paints a troubling picture of our emergency departments; overburdened by the influx of additional patients associated with the pandemic and failing to maintain acceptable risk profiles with regards to delayed diagnoses and medical negligence for patients. Those affected by severe A&E wait times should seek the advice of a qualified medical negligence solicitor to ascertain whether they can make a compensation claim for any harm they suffered as a result.