The Royal College of Physicians has warned that a radical reorganisation of the healthcare system is needed as NHS acute hospital wards are on ‘the brink of collapse’.
A report by the RCP called “Hospitals on the Edge? The time for action” claims that NHS hospitals are so full that elderly patients are being discharged in the middle of the night and routine blood tests are being conducted at 3am.
According to the RCP, the number of beds in general and acute wards has fallen by a third in the last 25 years, whilst the number of patients has increased. In addition, one in 10 consultant posts in emergency medicine are said to be vacant, leading to severe staff shortages.
The report states that patients are being moved from ward to ward as acute bed spaces become full, causing fractured care and a lack of compassion. Dr Andrew Goddard, medical director for the RCP workforce unit, said:
"Many hospitals run a traffic light system for their status: they are green if they are taking in patients; they are amber if they need to be a bit more careful; red for full or black if they are shut.
"What we've seen over the past year or so is that a number of hospitals are on red alert or black alert.
"A black alert used to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Now hospitals are on black alert three or four times a year."
The RCP said “radical reorganisation” of the NHS is needed to prevent a reproduction of the devastating events reported at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in 2009.
But Dr Dan Poulter, a Health Minister, has dismissed the concerns from the RCP. In a statement issued by the Department of Health, he added: "It is completely wrong to suggest that the NHS cannot cope.
“The NHS only uses approximately 85 per cent of the beds it has available, and more and more patients are being treated out of hospital, in the community or at home.”
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