Emergency departments: ‘More than 500 excess deaths’ in NI due to crowding
More than 500 excess deaths may have occurred in NI’s emergency departments between 2020 and 2021 due to crowding, a report has said.
The findings are from a Royal College of Emergency Medicine report.
Excess deaths are a measure of how many more people died than would be expected based on figures from previous years.
The UK-wide report, which looked at the harm crowding has on patients, calculated the Northern Ireland figure using a mathematical model.
Emergency department overcrowding has made headlines recently as UK hospitals struggle to cope with rising numbers.
The report, which also examined the impact of prolonged waits, said that crowding has always been “unconscionable”.
It said the figures for across the UK “lay bare the reality that lives are being lost to an issue that could be eradicated for good”.
It calculated that as many as 566 excess deaths could have occurred in Northern Ireland between 2020 and 2021.
While they cannot confirm at this stage the actual number, the report also suggested that, in time and with further research, the figure could prove to be higher.
“We hope this early work will lead to further work specifically for local hospitals,
which we have been recommending for some time, to give a better insight into the harm caused by crowding and long waits for admission.”
Findings should be ‘treated with caution’
2020 saw a huge and unexpected rise in deaths because of the pandemic.
The president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Northern Ireland, Dr Paul Kerr, told BBC News NI that the findings should be “treated with caution”.
“These figures are concerning,” he said.
“However the calculation of the extra deaths associated with prolonged waits in emergency departments is complex and the methodology used in NHS England may not be directly applicable to Northern Ireland,” he added.
“We hope this early work will lead to further work specifically for local hospitals, which we have been recommending for some time, to give a better insight into the harm caused by crowding and long waits for admission,” he said.
The report, which specifically examines hospitals in England, calls on the government to restore bed capacity to what it was pre-pandemic.
- Hospital overcrowding caused deaths, say doctors
- Why the NHS is struggling like never before
- Ambulances diverted due to hospital pressures
It said workforce planning is also essential, which must include actions to retain existing staff who are reaching burnout as well as efforts to recruit new staff.
By applying mortality data and figures for those who waited between eight to 12 hours in an emergency department, the report estimated 303 excess deaths in Scotland, 709 in Wales and 4,519 in England.
The report also said that what these figures do not show is the harm that may come to those waiting even longer than 12 hours.