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Health chiefs apologise for A&E waits and blame two main factors

HEALTH chiefs have apologised for continuing long waits in North Wales emergency departments – blaming two main factors behind the delays. They were responding this week after last weekend saw average A&E waits of nearly eight hours at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd in Bodelwyddan and 10 and a half hours at Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor. 

These waits came under fire from Aberconwy MS Janet Finch-Saunders who said staff were doing their very best but that Welsh Government is underfunding and mismanaging the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which remains under special measures.

She says she is regularly contacted over people who have had to wait hours and even days in emergency departments. She claims some people are developing pressure sores due to those waits.

The board said the delays are symptomatic of two things. These are an increase in the number of people presenting at A&E with serious conditions since the pandemic and issues safely discharging patients who are medically ready to leave.

MS Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Too often I’m being approached in my office about patients’ experiences, who have waited up to 24 hours before they are triaged, and they can still be in a chair.  Well, you can’t sleep in a chair. You can’t get comfortable in a chair. I met somebody who had been in a chair and not admitted onto a ward for nearly two days, and they were complaining of pressure sores.

“Something has to be done now. It is something I’ve raised with the minister previously, and I call on the health minister to ensure sufficient resources are put into our A&E departments that serve Aberconwy and North Wales to ensure patients don’t have such an unpleasant experience and more importantly that they don’t feel inclined not to go when needed to because they cannot face such long waits. It certainly could cause people to deteriorate further with their condition (by not going to hospital).”

She added: “I do really feel for the very anxious, overworked, very stressed, and under-pressured staff members, in particular the nurses on the frontline because not only do they get politicians having a go, they have to deal with patients who are frustrated and in pain and are not at their best to treat staff as nicely as they should. The staff are absolutely wonderful. The health board and Welsh Government owe it to those fantastic staff to improve conditions – and quickly.”

In response Dr Jim McGuigan, Betsi’s deputy executive medical director, said: “We sincerely apologise for the long waits some patients face within our emergency departments. However, I would like to assure the public we treat patients in order of clinical need, not by order of how long they have been waiting. This means we treat the sickest at any given moment and we continually reassess clinical need as more patients arrive.

“The delays within our EDs are symptomatic of two things, in the main. Firstly, we are seeing far more people arriving with higher acuity, despite primary care seeing increasing numbers of patients. This means we are seeing more people with more serious conditions since the COVID pandemic.

“Secondly, we continue to have significant issues with safely discharging people who we consider to be medically fit to leave our hospitals. This means we often do not have enough free beds within the main hospital to allow us to move those patients who need one, out of ED. This adds to the pressure on ED staff and contributes to why you will often see patients waiting in corridors or cubicles at busy times.”

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He added, “There are a number of complex factors which cause these delayed discharges. One of them is a lack of resource and capacity within the social care sector. We are continually looking at ways to help alleviate capacity issues, along with our local authority partners, the Welsh Ambulance Service Trust and the third sector, so we can reduce waiting times and free up ambulances to work within our communities.

“Primary care and the community nursing teams do vital work with local authorities and private care providers so patients can leave hospital safely. Community teams also provide some of that interim care so hospitals can discharge patients who are medically fit.

“We face complex issues in our hospitals and our communities and ED is a symptom of the pressures we face, not the cause.”

A Welsh Government spokesman said: “Emergency departments across Wales continue to see high levels of demand.

“We are investing an extra £2.7m this year to support the health board’s urgent and emergency care improvement plan which is focused on helping safely care for more people in the community, and to tackle long stays in emergency departments by supporting more patients to leave hospital safely for home when they are ready.

“We have also provided an extra £32.7m this year for the Regional Partnership Board to help achieve these goals.

“We will continue to support the health board and all its dedicated NHS staff as it works to improve care and services for people across North Wales.”

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