“It was like a catastrophe, a ******* war or something. There were people all over the place. I looked in the waiting room and there were about one hundred people sitting waiting. Every corridor in Accident and Emergency was full of people on trolleys and chairs with IV strings attached to them.”
This was part of what I must admit was a sweary rant sent in a voice message to Yorkshire Bylines writer and friend John Heywood, born out of worry for my father and frustration at the horrendous circumstances he found himself in.
NHS in crisis
A record number of people had a long wait to be seen in A&E departments this October, NHS England data shows. More than 550,000 patients were waiting more than four hours in major A&E units, up from 492,000 in September – the highest figure on record.
The proportion of all patients in A&E and minor injury units being seen, discharged, or admitted within four hours fell to 69% in October, down from 71% in September, and well below the 95% NHS target.
Some 43,792 patients had to wait at least 12 hours in A&E after a decision to admit to a ward had been made, up 34% from 32,776 in September, the highest number since statistics began to be kept.
The Society of Acute Medicine warned the situation was “unacceptably poor” and likely to deteriorate further. The NHS said it faced the busiest October ever in A&E and for the most serious ambulance callouts.
What makes thedata particularly concerning is that the busiest winter period has yet to begin.
But stark though the figures are, they do not tell the human story behind the numbers. That is why I thought that my – or rather my father’s – story should be told.
A personal account of NHS care
It was Wednesday 9 November. My dad had been ill now for several days, complaining of flu-like symptoms, and spending his days mostly in bed. I visited him expecting to see some improvement in his condition, but this was not the case. He called me upstairs to tell me he had the most excruciating pain in his lower back and suspected he had kidney stones, which he had suffered from some 15 years before.
At this revelation I decided to call the doctor; I was told I could expect a phone call at some point that day. I queried exactly how a phone call would benefit someone in agony, but in the end I told them not to bother and that we would brave the Urgent Treatment Centre in Pontefract.
We arrived at 9.30am. By this time there were six patients in the waiting room before us. With a huge sigh of relief, I thought, “that’s not too bad”. However, whilst we sat waiting there was a constant stream of new people arriving. I overheard many of them saying “I’ve had to come here, I can’t get an appointment with my GP”.
The Pinderfields experience
By 11.30am my dad had been to triage and 30 minutes later a doctor called him through. After a consultation, examination and water sample test, the doctor said it could possibly be kidney stones. My dad was then sent home with pain medication and the doctor explained that he would get a call in a day or two to attend for a scan.
Now, my dad’s hearing is not the best and, understandably in the circumstances, he didn’t really focus on what the doctor was saying. This resulted in him trying to take the pain medication orally when it was in fact suppositories – I am sure you know where they go! When I explained this to my dad, he refused point blank to even try the medication. So off he went back to bed to try and sleep it off. (It turned out this first visit to hospital was a complete waste of time as the wrong medication was given – my dad actually needed IV antibiotics.)
On Thursday, I visited my dad again and found him looking deathly grey (a shade that Dulux would not manufacture) which was really alarming. I called 111, and after 15 minutes waiting, I was retelling the tale of the previous day and my concerns that my dad looked like a wet rag. An ambulance was dispatched and by 11.30am he was in A&E at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield (part of Mid-Yorkshire Hospitals, like Pontefract).
I arrived at the hospital at 5.30pm that evening to find my dad on a trolley in an insanely brightly lit corridor, hooked up to an IV drip, which he managed to rip out three times. During his time in the corridor, which was about twelve hours, he was taken for a scan and a chest X-ray. These showed that there were no kidney stones, but there was an infection on the lungs, which turned out to be pneumonia. He was transferred from the corridor at 1am and taken to the acute ward on Gate 12, which is a holding area – patients do not stay in there more than one night. At some point on Saturday, he was transferred to Ward 45.
A&E in total chaos
What my dad and I experienced was an A&E department in total chaos. The waiting room looked to be holding around one hundred people, the corridors were lined with sick people on trolleys and chairs hooked up to IVs, and the nurses and doctors were wandering around trying to locate patients in the corridors, just shouting out their names. It was utter carnage.
As a bewildered, naive bystander I assumed there had been some kind of apocalypse, but no, it was just an average day in an overrun, understaffed, too-small Accident and Emergency Department. I was in shock to see how busy it was. There were patients desperate to use the toilets, crying out for help, but appearing to be ignored and abandoned.
If you were lucky enough to have a family member with you, they were standing at the side of your trolley or chair, shuffling around for hours on end. It was like an endurance test. There were constant announcements going off with a bing bong: “clean up code red”, “clean up code brown”. I felt like I was in a supermarket. The most shocking bing bong announcement was “there will be no doctor handover”. I was in disbelief that the nurses and doctor starting a shift were expected to walk into a warzone that they couldn’t possibly have prepared for. Quite frankly I still find this utterly frightening.
This is the government’s fault
I cannot understand why the perfectly good, functional hospital in Pontefract was downgraded from having an A&E department. It would not be underused and it would take some pressure off the oversubscribed Pinderfields. Local MPs and councillors should spend 20 hours observing the carnage in Pinderfields A&E. If it is this bad mid-week, imagine what a weekend shift would be like. It sends shivers down my spine.
It is not the fault of the staff there. Seriously, I could not be a nurse or a doctor or anything to do with working in Accident and Emergency. It was horrific. As I said in my ranty message, “I don’t blame anybody that works there. It is the ******* government, not spending enough on them, allowing vast understaffing which means that caring, professional staff are working in horrendous ****** conditions”.
Footnote. My dad was eventually allowed out on Monday evening at around 7pm with outpatients and tests to come. He was still unwell on Tuesday but today (Wednesday) he is feeling a little better. He says the care on the ward was good.