Tag Archives: A&E waiting times

The hell that is A&E

At the weekend I spent far too long in an A&E department. Now my story is nothing special and it could be repeated by thousands of people around the country. The worrying thing is precisely that – my experience is now normal, rather than exceptional.

It was my husband Ian who needed medical care, complicated by the fact that he is 79, has some disability and uses a wheelchair outside our home. We didn’t think we needed to go to A&E but phoned 111 on Sunday afternoon for some advice. They sent us to the out-of-hours GP unit at a renowned teaching hospital some 40 minutes drive away. The GP there thought he needed to be seen by hospital staff, and possibly admitted, so sent him down the corridor to A&E.

We probably arrived at a bad time. Not only was it the weekend but junior doctors had been on strike earlier in the week so no doubt some people had held off until the Sunday evening. First we joined the queue to see the triage nurse, alongside a police officer with a prisoner. The small waiting room was already packed with around 50 people, at least half of whom were in some kind of distress, the others anxiously concerned about them.  These were in addition to the patients arriving by ambulance through a separate entrance. It was surprisingly quiet – each person silent in their own island of pain and worry.

We were sent straightaway to the Urgent Treatment Centre, which implied (correctly) that our need was actually less urgent than others. This waiting room was less packed and indeed some people were sitting outside the door in the cool of the garden area. The notice board announced a wait for adults of a rather precise 174 minutes. A vending machine dispensed chocolate bars and drinks, but all the catering facilities in the hospital were closed. We were grateful that we had eaten a meal before we left home.

The woman sitting next to me was clearly in a lot of pain, apparently from a broken arm. She was whimpering and praying with every breath. There was nothing I could do to help her, apart from offer to get her a cup of water. Over 3 hours later she was called in and I felt her relief. Eventually just Ian and one other patient were waiting to be seen. It was well after midnight when a nurse said the unit was closing and took us back to the main A&E waiting room. I was worried that we would have to start the wait period all over again, but was reassured that it wouldn’t be long.

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