British Hospitals On 'Brink of Collapse' Due To Spike In Elderly Patients, Sub-Standard Care: RCP

on September 13 2012 9:57 AM
Royal London Hospital
Royal London Hospital Flickr/Creative Commons

Britain’s hospital system may be on the ‘brink of collapse’ due to increased demand for clinical services and the complexity of elderly patient’s illnesses, according to a report from the Royal College of Physicians.

“The demand on clinical services is increasing to the point where acute care cannot keep pace in its current form,” the report said, citing, among other things, that over the past 25 years, the number of general and acute beds available has dropped by one-third, while emergency admissions has spiked by 37 percent in just the past decade.

“Hospitals are struggling to allocate beds that are appropriate for the patient’s condition when admitted to hospital because there are not enough beds,” said Suzie Hughes, chair of the RCP’s Patient and Carer Network, in a statement.

“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.”

Britain’s aging population is also placing a great burden on health care services.

The RCP indicated that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of patients admitted now are above the age of 65 -- many of whom are suffering from dementia and other conditions that hospital staff are not adequately equipped to cope with.

“This is having detrimental effects on patient care,” the RCP said. “A lack of continuity of care as their biggest concern about the current health service. It is not uncommon for patients, particularly older patients, to be moved four or five times during a hospital stay, often with incomplete notes and no formal handover.”

Elderly people are particularly vulnerable, the report warns.

“Research shows that medical and nursing staff often feel that older patients ‘shouldn’t be there,’” the group said.

“Being perceived as the ‘wrong patient on the wrong ward’ has been shown to reduce the quality of care, building attitudes of resentment from both medical and nursing staff.”

To alleviate the faltering system, the RCP proposes, among other measures, that British hospitals redesign and consolidate services to meet patient needs better, and reorganize hospital care so patients can get access to expert care seven days a week.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the RCP, said: “One doctor told me that his trust does not function well at night or on the weekend, and he is ‘relieved’ that nothing catastrophic has happened when he arrives at work on Monday morning. This is no way to run a health service. Excellent care must be available to patients at all times of the day and night. We call on government, the medical profession and the wider [National Health Service] to work together to address these problems.”

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, told the BBC: "These latest findings are alarming but, unfortunately, not surprising. It is painfully evident that the health care system stands on the brink of crisis. People with dementia are going into hospital unnecessarily, staying in too long and coming out worse."

The crisis in Britain’s hospital system was exemplified by the tragedies that occurred at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, where about 1,200 mostly elderly patients died between 2005 and 2009 largely due to poor care.

“There will not be some cataclysmic overnight explosion, but there will be a gradual increase in the sorts of tragedies that we’ve heard about at [Mid Staffordshire],” warned Professor Tim Evans, an intensive care specialist, according to the Daily Telegraph.

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