Photo of sick child sleeping on hospital floor lays bare severe A&E pressures
PUBLISHED: 08:28 10 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:48 10 January 2020
Carla Taylor/PA Images
This photo shows how Norfolk’s biggest emergency department has become so overcrowded that a sick child had to sleep on a corridor floor.
It was 9.30pm on the Saturday before Christmas when Carla Taylor took her daughter to A&E.
Lacey, 11, had swollen tonsils and was dehydrated as she could not swallow.
When they arrived at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) there were no seats in the children's emergency department.
"The room was absolutely packed. Parents and children were sitting in the corridor, on the floor, everywhere," Mrs Taylor said. "There were several children asleep on the floor. My daughter slept on the floor for a while until there was a bed available.
"It was awful, but the staff were amazing."
The mother-of-two, 33, from Costessey, said Lacey was given a bed after around an hour and within five hours of arriving they saw a doctor.
She was diagnosed with glandular fever and stayed in hospital for two days.
"There were about 20 to 30 people waiting.
"They did what they could as fast as they could. The staff were so stretched but they did an amazing job considering the pressure they were under."
NNUH chief nurse Prof Nancy Fontaine apologised to the Taylors and said the care fell "well below the standard we expect for our patients".
Prof Fontaine said December 21 was an "exceptionally busy day" for the children's department with 18pc more patients than normal.
It comes as the hospital's emergency department posts the worst A&E waiting times in the country for the fourth month running with only 55pc of patients being seen within the target of four hours in December. The target is 95pc and the national average is 80pc.
It was the NNUH's worst ever performance.
The figure for the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston was 84pc and for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn it was 71pc.
When the NNUH first opened in 2001, its A&E treated around 60,000 patients a year; by 2018 that number was 140,000.
In 2018 it expanded the children's emergency department and set up the country's first older person's A&E.
The hospital also said a new three-storey ward block, which is opening in March, would help deal with rising patient numbers.
During the December election the NHS became a key battle area and a photo of a boy sleeping on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary sparked outrage.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during the campaign that the NNUH would get £70m for new diagnostic and assessment centres.
But Mrs Taylor, who works in a medical practice, said the emergency department desperately needed more capacity.
"If Boris has been in the night we were there he would have been gobsmacked," she said.
Four days before the Taylors' visit, the hospital declared a major internal incident because of overcrowding at A&E.
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"We are facing our most challenging situation with our trust today (Tuesday December 17)", a message to staff said.
It added that 35 patients admitted as emergencies could not be found a bed.
The NNUH's chief executive Sam Higginson also said in a board meeting in November that the emergency department was struggling.
"We are regularly using escalation areas to accommodate all the patients who need our care," he said.
"It inevitably has an impact on the quality of experience for patients and, whilst we do all we can to mitigate that impact, all hospitals find this a challenge. Tribute must be paid to our staff."
In a survey by this newspaper last weekend of more than 530 people who had used one of Norfolk's three emergency departments, many patients praised staff but highlighted long waits.
Almost 30pc said they waited for more than the NHS' target of four hours but half said they were "very happy" with the service they got.
Just over 17pc said they were "unhappy".
Lizzie Hawkins said her mum Edna Smith, 84, had been to A&E at the NNUH twice last week after staff at her care home In Shipdham called an ambulance.
"Paramedics and staff were amazing and she was dealt with quickly on a ward within two hours," she said. "The reason for bad reports is the time wasters that go to A&E when they could go to a walk-in centre or their own doctor."
Helen Poole, from Watton, took her 11-month old Gene to A&E on December 3 with a respiratory infection and was quickly treated.
"It is such an amazing service when we really needed it and maybe statistics don't show this," she said.
Tim O'Sullivan, 62, from Norwich, said: "My severely disabled daughter Theresa has several chronic conditions, and we have relied on the NNUH for 20 years for emergency, and routine care.
"The unfailing professionalism and kindness of the staff have literally been the difference between life and death for her. They have never failed nor hesitated in giving the best they can, and always found space, time and resources for treatment, despite the highly publicised difficulties at NNUH."
-Nowhere to sit
Waiting times at the NNUH A&E dropped off a cliff in 2017 and have been getting worse ever since.
Alice Schollar, 25, a student nurse from Norwich said she had to wait for more than five hours with a suspected haemorrhage in December 2017.
"Although the wait was long, and I was terrified, I was looked after so well. Seeing it from a patient's point of view really made me understand exactly how much trouble the service is in," she said.
Kerry Lomax, 48, St Stephen's Road, Norwich, had to wait more than three hours in August 2019 when her partner had kidney infection.
"Sometimes it gets so packed there is nowhere to sit," she said.
"The staff were very good, it seems like there's a small team trying to cope with a huge number of people."
Christine Dore, from Croydon, visited A&E while on holiday in September at Eccles on Sea. She had a ruptured blood vessel behind her eye. The 57-year old said when she arrived at 2.45pm the waiting area was packed. She said at 4.50pm a nurse announced there was still a four-hour wait so she gave up and left.
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