Delay: the patient was at King’s College Hospital
A patient waited almost two days on a trolley in one of London’s biggest A&E units because of a shortage of specialist beds, it was revealed today.
King’s College Hospital, in Denmark Hill, was forced to keep the patient in its casualty department for 45 hours 50 minutes because a delay in finding a bed in a specialist psychiatric unit.
It was one of 15 cases between April and June in which the hospital trust kept patients on a trolley for more than 12 hours. All 15 were mental health patients and the delays were caused by the shortage of psychiatric beds in other hospitals.
The delays were exposed in responses to freedom of information requests by the Labour Party. They also show that St George’s Hospital in Tooting kept a patient on an A&E trolley for 36 hours 18 minutes — the second longest period in the country. This case also involved a mental health patient.
Patients are normally expected to be given a hospital bed within four hours of a decision to admit them. Across Britain 380 patients spent more than 12 hours waiting for a bed between April and June — compared with 130 in the same period the previous year. Over the 12 months ending in June, 1,264 people waited more than 12 hours.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “These freedom of information requests expose the reality of what’s really going on in our NHS under the Tories: hospital beds full, A&Es overflowing and patients waiting for longer than 12 hours on trolleys waiting to be given a bed on a ward.”
Cuts warning: Dr Rosena Allin-Khan (PA)
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting and a former A&E doctor at St George’s, added: “Wandsworth council has cut social care budgets by over £10 million this year, making it harder to treat people at home and to get them home quickly after a stay in hospital. This story isn’t unique, it’s happening up and down the country. The Government must give hospitals the funding they need. Without significant investment the situation will get worse.”
King’s said that as it had no psychiatric beds, such delays were beyond its control. “Regrettably, patients who spend the longest time in our emergency department tend to be those with serious mental health problems who require a bed at a psychiatric hospital,” a spokeswoman added.
In its response to the FOI request, the trust said: “The process of detaining a patient under the Mental Health Act ... can exceed the emergency care target and occasionally involve a lengthy stay in the emergency department. Common causes for delays include the re-quirement for a second assessment from an independent psychiatrist, and the search for a bed. Demand for mental health beds exceeds capacity and it can take several hours.
“The patient cannot be moved until the bed has been identified and the patient seen and assessed by an approved social worker. Secure transport is then required.”
While waiting, “the patient will have a treatment plan, risk assessment and supervision. Staff will also ensure the patient has access to food, fluids and is cared for in a safe environment”.
St George’s said its patient was cared for in a dedicated assessment unit within but separate to the main A&E. A spokesman added: “Waiting times in our emergency department have re-duced significantly in recent months.
“In exceptional circumstances we are unable to transfer patients to a ward or another hospital as soon as a decision has been made to admit them. All patients are kept under observation, and given specialist care.”