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The Telegraph

A&E departments under pressure as non-Covid patients flood back

Accident and Emergency departments faced their busiest period in two years last week, as non-Covid patients began to flood back into hospitals, according to senior medics. The Society for Acute Medicine (SAM) is warning of “red flags” in hospitals, with the influx of urgent patients threatening to derail the government’s ambition to get routine treatments, such as hip and knee procedures, back on track. Despite the number of Covid patients in need of hospital treatment declining, trusts are still enforcing strict infection control measures, which has a major impact on capacity. It comes as hospitals are being pushed to resume up to 70 per cent of non-urgent treatment this month, following more than a year of cancelled and delayed appointments due to pandemic. It is understood that on various days last week some A&E departments recorded a 20 per cent higher number of patients than would be expected for the time of year. Dr Nick Scriven, SAM immediate past president, said: “We are aware this week of hospitals having some of their busiest activity in emergency departments with non-Covid patients for two years and that is a concern as we are operating with reduced clinical space due to Covid infection control measures.” Dr Scriven said the influx of patients arriving through A&E risked overwhelming acute medical units, unless there were improvements in capacity. “This is not a sustainable plan and trusts need to urgently look at how they can maintain and improve flow right through hospitals and not ignore urgent care while they strive to meet enforced targets on the return of up to 70 per cent of elective activity this month,” he added. NHS faces ‘hidden backlog’ of patients Research by the NHS Confederation in March estimated that the service is facing a hidden backlog of six million patients, with increasing numbers set to suffer with worsening conditions at home. There was a backlog of 4.52 million patients by the end of the 2020, 224,000 of whom had been waiting for more than a year for treatment, compared to 1,500 at the end of 2019. The system is still dealing with the repercussions of the government’s “protect the NHS message”, deployed last spring, which has been blamed with deterring tens of thousands of non-Covid patients with legitimate health needs. Dr Susan Crossland, president of SAM, said there was “much dismay” at the recently-released NHS plan to help the health service recover all patient services following the intense winter wave of Covid, with a focus mainly on non-urgent care. “While the focus switches to a return to some sort of normality, it is important those in positions of power balance their desire to say what people want to hear with the realities of what we face and the truth is we are far from normality in the NHS and, certainly for acute and emergency medicine, everything still looks quite grim,” she said. “The Prime Minister himself has admitted there is still the potential a third wave of Covid may come and, with the increase in non-Covid attendances in busy emergency departments this week when some restrictions were lifted, there are red flags which show this is a tightrope we are walking.”

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