Medical Negligence due to A & E delays

13 Jan 2015

The NHS is overwhelmed and hospitals are close to the brink of collapse if we are to believe the reports in the press. Only days ago a ‘major incident’ was declared in the West Country when two NHS hospitals were at bursting point and the A & E departments at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General Hospital were unable to cope with the patient demand. Similarly, London North West Healthcare Trust was on ‘black alert’ due to the pressure at the A & E department of Northwick Park Hospital being unable to cope with the volume of patients attending the department.

Barking Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, a Trust I am very familiar with in my role as a medical negligence practitioner, has since 28 December 2014 been functioning at a ‘significant internal event’, apparently just shy of a major incident. Patients, many seriously ill, attending A & E departments up and down the country are made to wait significant periods of time before being seen by a doctor or member of staff. In fact, The London North West Healthcare Trust is quoted as having the worst delays in the UK in the run up to Christmas 2014. Accordingly, only 53.7% of patients at Ealing Hospital and Northwick Park Hospital were seen and treated within the requisite 4 hour time frame. The week after Christmas 2014 did not bode well either with only 63.9% of patients being seen within 4 hours quoted as the ‘second worst’ A & E department in England.

This is worrying, not only for the NHS Trusts but for those who are seriously ill and cannot make contact with their GP out of hours and are unable to seek medical assistance elsewhere. The frail and elderly as well as young children are particularly at risk in such situations. Apparently, in London, where the population is close to hitting 8.4 million only 3 out of the 19 NHS Trusts were able to hit their 4 hour wait target in the week up to 21 December 2014.

One of the reasons for the failures of these Trusts is the natural increase in population. We are an ageing nation, developments in science and medicine have led to us living longer, hence there are more of us and as we age we need to rely on medical services and this is natural. Dr Onkar Sahota, the Labour chairman of the London Assembly Health Committee believes that Years of costly reorganisation and closures have left the NHS in London in a perilous position”. As a former qualified State Registered Nurse who was employed by both the NHS and the private sector in the late 1980’s until late 1990’s, I would have to agree. The pressure on NHS staff is enormous, the staffing shortages and closures have pushed the NHS to breaking point. The same amount of staff and bed capacity as several years ago is expected to deal with the increase in patients. Dr Clifford Mann President of the College of Emergency Medicine has been quoted as saying, “We have reached tipping point – 20,000 extra patients a week all have to be accommodated within the same bed stock and the same capacity as the system in 2013”.

Further, with increasing staff shortages these problems will only get worse. Winter is in full swing and virus such as norovirus and the like will only continue to add to these current pressures. In addition, medical and nursing staff will still have to cope with the additional casualties including road traffic accident victims, cardiac arrests, cerebrovascular accidents and other serious emergencies.

I have recently been approached and asked to act for two separate families who had family members who had acute medical conditions requiring urgent medical attention. Both attended A & E departments in different hospitals in London, both were misdiagnosed, incorrectly treated and discharged home. Both returned to A & E departments of the said hospitals the following day and both died within a short period of time of their attendance at A & E. One of these victims was a child. Both had conditions that should have been easily diagnosed, treated and both should not have died. The impact on both of these families is indescribable.

These mistakes should not of happened, but I fear that until changes are made and systems are in place to cope with the current patient demand, patients will not be treated within the requisite 4 hour time frame or mistakes will continue to be made due to inappropriate staffing levels or due to the inexperience of medical and nursing staff.

If you think that you have suffered substandard medical care or treatment as a result of delays by the emergency services, you can contact Osbornes Medical Negligence department for a free and confidential conversation on 020 7485 8811. Alternatively, you can email either Stephanie Prior, Head of Medical Negligence at or Ewelina Ochab at


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