A&E crisis: foreign nurses and untrained volunteers drafted in to plug dangerous shortfall

A&E crisis: foreign nurses and untrained volunteers drafted in to plug dangerous shortfall

Untrained admin staff are being drafted in to help healthcare workers at Britain’s Accident and Emergency departments, it has emerged, as the crisis continues to grow. Trusts across the country are also scrambling to recruit hundreds of foreign nurses to plug the shortfalls in staff numbers, interviewing candidates via Skype to speed up the process.

In North Wales, more than 70 Spanish nurses have been parachuted in to help struggling casualty departments and many staff are working unpaid overtime to meet demands. Hospitals in the West Midlands have been forced to recruit 140 volunteers and draft in admin staff to help health workers, even though they have not had criminal records checks. At least 14 NHS hospitals have declared major incidents, cancelling operations and outpatient appointments amid warnings they are facing ‘unprecedented pressure.’

Figures released yesterday showed the NHS was experiencing the worst accident and emergency performance in a decade. In the two weeks over Christmas, almost 21,000 patients waited between four and 12 hours on trolleys. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, will today respond to an urgent question by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham who is calling for a cross-party summit to deal with the crisis.

Mr Burnham told ITV's Good Morning Britain (GMB) that health and social care should be brought together as "one budget", saying it did not make sense trying to save money on social care but then spending "thousands" on people who end up in hospital.

"I repeatedly warned throughout this parliament that if you cut social care, if you take away support from older people in their homes, in the end that falls back on the NHS because people end up going into hospital and they become trapped there,” he said.

"I think the time has come actually to see them as one budget, not seeing the council (social care) budget and then the NHS budget over here. See them as one budget and start to care for older people very differently. Start in their own homes and support them there."

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said trusts had been hamstrung by ‘short-sighted cuts to nurse training places.

“This is made worse by chronic under-resourcing of community services and social care, which means more people end up in A&E who could be better treated elsewhere,” he said.

Today it emerged that an 81-year-old woman was forced to lie on the floor and wait 11-and-a-half hours for an ambulance to arrive after she collapsed at her home. Florence Cunningham had been trying to get to the toilet at her home in Farnham, Hampshire, using her walking frame when she fell on Monday evening. Her family dialled 999 at 9.08pm but an ambulance did not arrived until after 8am the following day. When she was finally taken to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, the pensioner had to wait on a trolley in a corridor for up to two hours before she was moved to a cubicle.

Her son David Cunningham said: "The NHS is in crisis, it's no point Labour blaming the Conservatives or the Conservatives blaming Labour, they have both failed the people.

"This is because of poor planning and infrastructure in our medical and social care.

The South Central Ambulance Service said it had seen ‘unprecedented increased demand.’

A spokeswoman for Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Queen Alexandra Hospital, said that its emergency department (ED) had declared "black status".

Today all three hospitals in Leicester had to declare an "internal major incident" as they fought to cope with hundreds of A&E patients and emergency admissions. It adds to the list of hospitals that have already called emergencies this week.

Suzanne Mason, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Sheffield, told The Times the number of patients sent to A&E at the weekend by 111 is a "huge problem" and that parts of the country had been "brought to their knees" by it.

She said: "There are certain times of day and days of the week when call handlers get to the bottom of the algorithm and look at what services are available locally and there isn't anything there."

Stuart Gardner, a paramedic at West Midlands Ambulance Service told the BBC: “ I don’t believe it’s safe. It’s not good for patients and patient safety is being jeopardised.”

By Sarah Knapton,

BBC News, Wednesday 7 Jannuary 2015

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