Lack of beds puts ED elderly patients at risk of death

red hospital bed, white hospital beds

A survey from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine has found that 70% of patients in emergency departments are waiting more than eight hours to get a hospital bed after receiving emergency care.

This phenomenon – known as access block – occurs when there aren’t enough free beds in the main body of the hospital for ED patients. It’s also the main cause of ambulance ramping, because paramedics can’t unload their patients into an ED that’s already full.

The survey – which covered all 121 Australian emergency departments accredited by ACEM – paints a stark picture of a hospital system at breaking point.

Longer stays in the ED are associated with poorer health outcomes, especially among older patients.

Canberra Hospital research found that older patients who wait more than four hours to be transferred to a bed in the main body of the hospital are 51% more likely to die than patients who waited less than four hours.

“These figures are consistent with surveys we’ve collected over the past five years which show that too many patients are waiting too long to receive the proper care,” says Associate Professor Drew Richardson, who conducted the study.

“They reflect a hospital system that is critically overburdened and that is putting patients into the firing line.”

More than half of the hospitals surveyed reported that they had at least one patient who had been waiting for a bed for more than 12 hours. If this occurs in the UK, the NHS must make a report to the Health Minister.

“A statistic like that should be sending an alarm bell to healthcare authorities across the country,” says Prof Richardson. “It’s completely unacceptable.”


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