Hospitals in the UK are on the “brink of collapse”, according to the Royal College of Physcians (RCP), after a review of acute care found demand was far outstripping available services.
Hospitals on the edge? The time for action says that there are a third fewer hospital beds now than there were 25 years ago, yet there has been a 37 per cent rise in emergency admissions in the past decade alone.
The need for increased support for an ageing population was also highlighted as a concern by the RCP, with 65 per cent of people admitted to hospital over the age of 65 and more likely to be in a frail condition or living with dementia.
Particular issues that have put patients at risk include a lack of continuity of care, being moved during a hospital stay and incomplete notes.
In addition, a decline in standards of care has been linked with a perception from hospital staff that patients are in the wrong area or should not be in hospital.
Suzie Hughes, chair of the RCP patient and carer network said: “Hospitals are struggling to allocate beds that are appropriate for the patient's condition when admitted to hospital because there are not enough beds. On top of this, diagnostic services are unavailable or in extremely short supply during out of hours, weekends and at bank holidays.”
“All the while, hospitals are expected to run services with fewer and fewer trained staff. These issues have a detrimental effect on patient care and lead to longer stays in hospital.“
To address these problems the RCP has made several suggestions to improve care, including the promotion of a patient-centred approach that treats patients with dignity at all times.
The redesign of services to better meet patients' needs was also called for by the RCP, although the organisation said this might involve the consolidation of hospital services and even hospital closures.
In addition, hospital care should be reorganised so that patients can access expert services seven days a week and patients should be able see their GP out of hours, relieving pressure on emergency services.
The report's claims were countered by the Department of Health, however, with health minister Dr Dan Poulter telling the BBC: "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.
"But it is true that the NHS needs fundamental reform to cope with the challenges of the future.
"To truly provide dignity in care for older people, we need to see even more care out of hospitals. That's why we are modernising the NHS and putting the people who best understand patient's needs, doctors and nurses, in charge."