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The practice of nurses treating patients in hospital corridors must not be allowed to become the “new normal” in the face of unprecedented demand, health leaders have warned.
They noted how more and more nurses were being relocated from wards to care for patients in temporary arrangements due to overcrowding and bed shortages, raising patient safety concerns.
“Patient safety is being compromised too often at present”
The cautions over the rising prevalence of “corridor medicine” come as evidence suggests emergency care nurses in England are facing the toughest winter on record.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive officer at NHS Providers, which represents trusts, said: “The fact that some trusts may have to redeploy nurses away from other wards to look after patients who are temporarily waiting in hospital corridors shows the level of strain the health service is now under.
“Long waits or being treated in corridors or waiting rooms is not appropriate for patients, risking their dignity and safety.”
Ms Cordery said treating patients in corridors or other temporary arrangements added extra stress for staff already working in a high-pressured environment.
“We must not allow this to become the new normal,” she added.
This week Nursing Times reported from picket lines in the ongoing Northern Ireland nurse strikes.
Conor McDowell, a charge nurse in Belfast, noted that unsafe staffing levels had led to the increased practice of corridor nursing in the country.
He said: “People are being nursed in corridors and we now talk about corridor medicine and how we maintain and respect dignity of those patients, which is absolutely ludicrous.
“When I qualified nine years ago, I never thought I would nurse a patient on a corridor but unfortunately it’s come to that.”
The NHS released performance figures last week revealing that more than two million people attended emergency services during December, which is an increase of 133,506 compared to the same period in 2018.
Last month, 2,347 patients in England were waiting for longer than 12 hours after decision to admit, often on trolleys in hospital corridors.
This number increased from 284 in December 2018 and 1,112 in November 2019.
Dave Smith, chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s Emergency Care Association, said: “Having to provide care to patients in corridors and on trolleys in overcrowded emergency departments is not what we came into nursing for.
“It’s not just undignified for patients, it’s also often unsafe.
“Long waits or being treated in corridors or waiting rooms is not appropriate for patients”
“Staff from across the NHS are reporting having to work in corridors, but this problem isn’t going to go away unless we can increase the number of nurses in the health service.”
Mr Smith said more nurses were needed across services to tackle this unprecedented demand, including on hospital wards and in the community.
He added: “Patient safety is being compromised too often at present.”
Data from ambulance services found that in December crews responded to 790,294 incidents, which was the busiest month on record averaging 25,493 call-outs per day.
The figures also showed that ambulance crews were attending more patients who were so ill that they required hospital treatment, with admissions up by 3% compared to the previous year.
Handover times between ambulance and hospital staff were also up due to the levels of demand.
An NHS spokeswoman said: “While the NHS has more beds open this winter than last, our A&Es have had to treat more than a million extra patients over the past year.
“So as well as 50,000 more nurses and extra hospital beds, over the next few years it’s also going to be necessary to rebuild and expand most A&E departments across England.”