Why many of Scotland's emergency departments are treating patients in corridors

Half of Scotland’s A&Es are treating patients on trolleys in corridors on an average weeknight, a new study has found

Half of Scotland’s emergency departments are treating patients in hospital corridors, alarming research has found, as top medics issued a warning over the “undignified and unsafe” practice.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has analysed data to capture a “snapshot” of an average Monday night in accident-and-emergency (A&E) units in Scotland, during four weeks in March and April.

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Out of Scotland’s 29 emergency departments,14 reported patients were being treated in corridors – although eight did not provide any data at all.

Overcrowding in Scotland's emergency departments has led to more than half treating patients in hospital corridors, research has found. Peter Byrne/PA WireOvercrowding in Scotland's emergency departments has led to more than half treating patients in hospital corridors, research has found. Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Overcrowding in Scotland's emergency departments has led to more than half treating patients in hospital corridors, research has found. Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Of the 826 patients in attendance across the 21 emergency departments, 106 were being treated on trolleys in the corridor – a total of 12.8 per cent.

Only one emergency department had any free cubicles at the time. The average cubicle occupancy was 182 per cent and the maximum for any one department was 258 per cent.

The RCEM said the problem of overcrowding was present across the UK.

Dr John-Paul Loughrey, RCEM vice-president for Scotland, said: “The image of more than 100 people – 100 grandparents, parents, children and friends – receiving treatment on trolleys in corridors across Scotland at once is truly heart-breaking.

“But these finding are unfortunately not surprising for anyone who has worked in or visited an A&E in Scotland in the last few years. Studies like this are one of the few ways that we can try to show the true scale of the issue to the public and those with the power to change the devastating reality – the reality of coming to work and treating people, many elderly and vulnerable, in inappropriate conditions such as corridors.

“It is undignified and unsafe and it needs to change.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the RCEM, said: “The effects of overcrowding, including queues of ambulances outside hospital and people being treated on trolleys due to a lack of space, is not just an issue in Scotland, it is happening all over the UK.

“It is caused by an inability to discharge people who are ready to go home, as there aren’t appropriate social care options in place to do so safely.

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“We will keep saying it until those in power do what they need to do to fix it – we need more staffed beds, improved staff retention and improved social care provisions, so we can safely discharge people and therefore reduce dangerously long A&E wait times that are currently being endured.

“We will not stop calling for this change until it is made.”

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane, said 17 years of “SNP mismanagement” had brought Scotland’s health service to its knees and “left hard-working NHS staff providing care in totally inappropriate and dangerous settings”.

“The lethal combination of the SNP’s dire workforce planning and Humza Yousaf’s flimsy recovery plan has resulted in what was once an emergency measure becoming the shocking norm – with more than half of Scotland’s A&E units forced to treat patients in corridors,” he said.

“Corridor care often leaves my frontline colleagues without access to the life-saving equipment they need, leading to tragic and avoidable deaths. We cannot expect frontline NHS staff to work with one hand tied behind their back and SNP ministers must act now to eradicate this crisis that, worryingly, is becoming increasing normalised.

“I would urge Neil Gray to back the ambitious plans we set out in our new health paper that would cut waiting times, prioritise better working conditions for staff and embrace a modern, efficient and local approach to our NHS."

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

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