Published: 05:00, 18 November 2021
| Updated: 15:39, 18 November 2021
More than 150 people were left waiting 12 hours in A&E last month – as east Kent’s hospitals come under increasing pressure.
One patient who spent 11 hours in a wheelchair in a corridor described the waiting room at the William Harvey in Ashford as “like a warzone”.
With demand on the NHS growing, ambulance response times have also reached their worst levels on record.
Frontline hospital staff are being “pushed to their limits” and many have reached “burn-out” while dealing with “winter-style pressures” for months, say union reps.
More than 22,000 people have been seeking emergency treatment in east Kent every month since May, amid high levels of staff sickness due to Covid.
And the pressure is taking its toll, as worrying figures released last week reveal that 158 patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be seen after being admitted to A&E at the William Harvey and the QEQM in Margate.
Across the rest of the county, just six people faced similar delays – all at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham.
In September in east Kent, the number waiting 12 hours was 22, showing how the problem has dramatically escalated in recent weeks.
Among those to have experienced lengthy delays at the William Harvey in Ashford last month was Jordan Dadd.
He slipped over playing badminton on Tuesday, October 19, injuring his knee. The following day it swelled up and he was in “ridiculous” pain.
Mr Dadd, of Ashford Road, Faversham, called 111 and was told to go to A&E at the William Harvey.
He says he arrived at 8pm on Wednesday and was told there was a six-hour wait. He did not see a doctor until 7am the following day.
The 32-year-old described A&E as “absolutely chock-a-block”.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “It was like a warzone.
“The staff were dashing around everwhere. Patients were just piled up out in the corridors.”
Mr Dadd says he was put in a wheelchair in a corridor, and when he asked for some painkillers or something to eat, staff were unable to provide him with anything.
He says his knee went numb and he used a “wet-floor” sign to prop his leg up while he waited.
When the doctor finally did see him, Mr Dadd was told he needed an MRI scan but would need to be referred by his GP.
He went home but was unable to get through to his GP on the phone so he decided to try to bear the pain until a pre-arranged follow-up appointment at the Kent & Canterbury on November 4.
Here he was told he needed an urgent MRI scan, which revealed he had torn the ACL ligament in his knee and fractured the bone.
An East Kent Hospitals spokesperson said: “Patients who arrive in our emergency department are seen in order of clinical urgency, with the most seriously ill seen first.
“Mr Dadd was assessed within two minutes of his arrival into the emergency department.
“We are sorry he then had a long wait until it was his turn to be seen.
“Following patient feedback, we are improving the refreshments available for waiting patients.”
Latest figures reveal that a third of A&E patients at Ashford and Margate had to wait more than four hours to be seen.
Several readers commenting on Facebook have outlined how they have faced lengthy delays – while others were full of praise for staff and said they were seen promptly and efficiently.
The A&Es at the William Harvey and QEQM are currently undergoing a £30 million transformation.
It is understood the building work means the current emergency department environment is very challenging.
Rebecca Carlton, chief operating officer for East Kent Hospitals, said: “We are sorry some people have experienced long waits.
“We are in the process of extending both our emergency departments, which will help us speed up treatment time and provide a much better environment for patients when complete.
“Please continue to only use A&E in an emergency and make use of 111 and community services in all other circumstances.
“We are working with our NHS and social care partners so patients are supported to go home as soon as they are able to.”
The trust is understood to be checking the data submitted for October to see if the building works presented any irregularities.
The number of patients with Covid in east Kent’s hospitals has fallen for the second week in a row to 49, from 52. This is far below the January peak of 460.
Tragic death of 'fit and active' pensioner
An 82-year-old who waited 10 hours to be seen by a doctor after arriving at A&E died six days later.
James Carter went to the emergency department at the William Harvey on Monday, September 6.
His daughter Jane says after his 10-hour wait, he then spent another 24 hours on a ward at A&E before being moved to the acute medical unit.
Jane says her dad had been a “fit and active guy” but when she went to see him in hospital he had become “completely delirious”.
On Thursday, September 9, he was taken into intensive care and on the Saturday doctors called to say he had nine gallstones and sepsis.
Mr Carter, from Faversham, died on Sunday, September 12.
Jane believes that if her dad had been seen quicker on the Monday, the gallstones may have been identified sooner and he may not have developed sepsis.
“I’m just speechless. I feel let down,” she added.
An East Kent Hospitals spokesperson said: “We extend our sincere condolences to Mr Carter’s family and offer to discuss any concerns they may have around his care and treatment.
“We are sorry Mr Carter had a long wait.
“His condition was continuously monitored by clinical staff to check for any signs of deterioration and he was admitted to our acute medical unit shortly after being reviewed by our surgical and medical teams.”
Staff 'pushed to their limits'
Concerns that exhausted staff have reached “burn-out” have been raised by Canterbury’s MP and union chiefs.
Unison, the biggest union for health workers, says the NHS has been experiencing “winter-style pressures” for months.
Its regional organiser, Joshua Cooper, said: “There are real fears that staff and services will be unable to cope as demand continues to increase.
“Lengthy delays are causing much distress to ambulance crews, control room staff and emergency department workers.
“They can’t respond as quickly as they would like to emergency calls and situations.
“Staff are increasingly concerned that pressures on the system are compromising their codes of conduct.”
Mr Cooper says shortfalls in the social care system are also adding to the problem.
“With no other support available, staff attending vulnerable elderly patients often have no option but to take them to hospital,” he said. “They are then left queueing outside hospitals, preventing crews from getting back on the road to deal with the next emergency.
“After the horrors of the pandemic, it’s not surprising many NHS workers have reached burn-out. They cannot be left to just carry on doing excessive hours without proper breaks and rest between shifts.
“Employers must act swiftly by doing all they can to limit the unprecedented pressures on staff. Additional welfare support is needed, and the government should make this a top priority.
“Ministers must realise the important role that pay plays, both in holding onto staff and ensuring a steady supply of new recruits.”
Ms Duffield has urged ministers to “intervene quickly” to tackle the growing problems in east Kent.
The Labour MP said: “Behind every statistic of a patient spending hours waiting for hospital admission is a person – someone’s loved one, often at their most vulnerable.
“As part of ‘building back better’ from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s vital that the government does everything it can to bring down NHS waiting times and build a more resilient health service fit for the needs of the 21st century.
“Ministers need to recognise that health systems such as those here in east Kent have a particular set of problems, and intervene quickly in order to turn things around.
“It can’t be right that more than a third of patients in A&E are left waiting for more than four hours.
“Staff have been pushed to their limits as pressures grow and grow. The longer it takes for ministers to act, the worse the situation will get and the more people will suffer as a result.”
Ms Duffield says the NHS was already on its knees before the pandemic and the situation has spiralled.
“The coming winter is set to be the most challenging in the NHS’s history – that’s why the government needs to bring forward urgently a plan to fix the health and care workforce crisis and relieve the overwhelming pressure faced by hospitals, primary care and ambulance services,” she added.
Worst ambulance response times on record
Ambulance response times in October were the worst on record in every single category.
Bosses at South East Coast Ambulance Service (Secamb) say staff answered 89,000 calls last month – one every 30 seconds.
For the most urgent call-outs (category 1), the average response time was nine minutes and eight seconds. The NHS target is seven minutes.
For category 2 calls – which include someone who has suffered a stroke or heart attack, or is suffering from sepsis or major burns – the average response time was 34 minutes and 56 seconds, almost double the target of 18 minutes.
Yet in a sign of how ambulance services across the country are facing unprecedented demand, Secamb has the best category 2 response time in England.
For category 3 calls – for urgent incidents which are not life-threatening – the average response time was more than three hours, with one in 10 people waiting more than eight hours.
For category 4 incidents, classified as non-urgent, 10% of people wait more than 10 hours.
These are the worst response times since the targets were set in 2017.
Amid the huge demand, Secamb highlighted how 6,700 of the calls did not require a face-to-face ambulance response.
Meanwhile, paramedics attended 19,700 patients who were not taken to hospital.
A Secamb spokesperson said: “Our staff work extremely hard to respond to patients as quickly as possible, prioritising those who are most seriously ill and injured and we are sorry that some patients are waiting a long time for a response.
“Demands on our service remain high due to a rise in calls to 999 and 111, wider pressures being felt across the NHS in our region and our available resources at this time. We are working closely with our NHS colleagues to manage this demand.
“Members of the public can help us by considering which service suits their needs best and making use of alternatives to 999 if they are not facing a serious or life-threatening emergency.”