A&E at Christmas

It is well known that Christmas is one of the busiest times of year for Accident and Emergency Departments (A&E) and there are no signs of this changing any time soon. Figures published by NHS England show that 2,003,964 people attended A&E in December 2017 in England.This was an increase compared to December 2016 when there were 1,944,568 attendances and December 2015 when there were 1,867,652 attendances.

It is also well known that NHS staff are under enormous pressure to meet targets and to see all attendees within a four hour window.

This combination can be a recipe for disaster and it is therefore not surprising that there is an increased risk of medical errors happening during this time.

People can be very understanding during the festive season and for this reason many people do not take action in response to these errors, often as they do not want to get anyone into trouble, particularly as the doctor or nurse concerned has given up their Christmas to care for others. However, clinical negligence cases are not about getting anyone into trouble, and whilst their main aim is to obtain compensation for the injured person, there is a wider goal and that is to encourage the NHS to learn from their mistakes and to prevent the same thing from happening again to someone else. Often, the mistakes happen because there just weren’t enough staff (for whatever reason) to cope with the number of patients. Consultations are therefore rushed, staff are distracted and they take their eye off the ball.

Focus of the NHS

However, rather than taking adequate steps to ensure there are sufficient staffing levels to meet the needs of an increased number of patients, the NHS remains focused on encouraging people not to attend A&E except in an emergency.

What is an emergency?

Unfortunately, it is not always clear from this campaign what an “emergency” is and therefore a lot of genuinely sick people risk their lives by not seeking medical attention when they genuinely need it for fear of being branded a nuisance or wasting valuable time. 

The dictionary definition of “medical emergency” is ‘a serious and unexpected situation involving illness or injury and requiring immediate action’. According to the NHS, this can include loss of consciousness, an acute confused state, fits that aren’t stopping, chest pain/breathing difficulties, severe bleeding that cannot be stopped, severe allergic reaction, severe burns or scalds.

Seek help!

Anyone who has any of these symptoms should not hesitate to go to their closest A&E as these people are not who the campaign targets.

The campaign targets people who do not fall into the definition of emergency.

In 2014, Cannock Chase Clinical Commissioning Group published ‘the 12 A&E Visits of Christmas’ in a bid to highlight the kinds of things staff are being asked to contend with including broken fingernails and bad hair extensions (you can’t make it up, the full list can be viewed here https://www.cannockchaseccg.nhs.uk/news-events/96-nhs-releases-12-a-e-visits-of-christmas-in-bid-to-deter-unnecessary-visits). As always though, if you are in doubt, dial 111 for advice.

The NHS campaign has been ongoing for a number of years now but the number of people attending hospital isn’t going down and therefore the risk of mistakes remains high. It therefore remains imperative that there are sufficient staffing levels to deal with this.

Therefore, if you’re unfortunate enough to need to attend A&E this Christmas and even more unfortunate enough that something goes wrong, do not hesitate to contact our clinical negligence team for advice. Our hope is that we can work together to encourage positive change from within the NHS to reduce the risk of future mistakes alongside the NHS’ own campaign.