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UK health crisis: NHS care delays caused 112 deaths, harmed 8,000 last year

This image shows ambulances outside the Royal London hospital in London, UK. (File photo by PA)

Long and deadly delays facing patients in the UK’s public healthcare system have left a heavy toll on Britons, raising deaths more than fivefold between 2019 and 2022, a British daily paper revealed.

The report published on Monday in the Guardian showed that about 8,000 people have been harmed and 112 died as a direct result of deadly delays in the UK medical care system known as the National Health Service (NHS).

It cited figures from NHS England showing that patient deaths arising directly from care delays have risen more than fivefold over the last three years, from 21 in 2019 to 112 last year. The number of people who came to “severe harm” has also jumped from 96 to 152 during that period.

The overall number of people suffering some degree of harm in such circumstances has leaped from 3,979 in 2019 to 7,856 in 2022, a rise of 97%, it added.

“These data are alarming and show quite clearly the human impact the crisis in the NHS is having on individual patients,” said Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association. “We have been watching a disaster unfolding across the NHS and have repeatedly warned about the threat to patient safety because of it.”

The figures are taken from the NHS’s national reporting and learning system (NRLS), a database in which staff make an entry if they believe that a patient has had poor care.

The Guardian obtained the statistics through a freedom of information (FoI) request to NHS England, which only released the data after the information commissioner intervened.

It should have released the figures after a month, but took five to do so, the Guardian said.

NHS England gave the Guardian anonymous details of 30 of last year’s deaths.

The NHS fatalities included a man seeking help due to cardiac arrest who died after waiting 18 minutes for his 999 call to be answered by the ambulance service. He was dead by the time the crew arrived.

A cardiac arrest patient is meant to be attended by an ambulance crew within seven minutes of the call being made because their life is at risk. Several other deaths involved ambulance services “stacking” 999 calls, in which people are left on hold because they do not have the resources to answer them quickly.

In another case, a patient who was starting chemotherapy for follicular lymphoma was also diagnosed with hepatitis B. They were initially treated but were then not seen in the hepatitis clinic and did not receive a further dose of a drug called tenofovir. The patient then developed fulminant hepatitis B and died.

Patients who face long delays for care can feel forgotten, according to Healthwatch, the statutory patient champion.

“We know that delays to care have significant impacts on people’s lives, putting many in danger. People told us about being removed from waiting lists, sometimes without being told why, or without being told at all,” said Louise Ansari, the watchdog’s chief executive.

Andrew Battye, a 68-year-old former NHS worker, said he needed monthly treatments for macular degeneration, an eye disease that can rapidly blur the central vision if left untreated.

However, “It’s a battle, basically, to get your appointment. My last one was supposed to be four weeks and was seven and a half weeks – and we only managed to get one because of a cancellation,” he added.

“You feel frustrated, but you also feel scared, knowing that you could lose your sight.”

“We’re facing a health emergency where more people than ever are waiting longer than ever for sight-saving treatment,” warned Adam Sampson, the chief executive of the Association of Optometrists.

“It’s incomprehensible and absolutely tragic that patients are experiencing delays to such an extent that they suffer further sight loss that is both avoidable and irreversible.”

The report by the Guardian pointed out that the NHS England figures were almost certainly a significant underestimate of the problem.

Is said A&E doctors have estimated that as many as 500 people a week may be dying because of delays in getting an ambulance, receiving A&E care, or starting specialist treatment.

According to ambulance companies, an estimated 6,000 patients were exposed to “severe harm” in December 2022 alone.

An analysis by the Liberal Democrats of NHS data has found that some heart attack and stroke patients are waiting more than 90 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

“We know that a matter of minutes can make all the difference in emergencies. So it is heartbreaking to see ambulance delays are worsening and heart attack and stroke victims being left waiting hours for help to arrive”, Daisy Cooper, the party’s health spokesperson, pointed out.

The UK Government is entangled in a continued dispute with doctors over pay and labor conditions. The officials say repeated strikes by the disgruntled doctors disrupt health services in the UK.

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