Senior doctor warns Wales’ flagship super hospital struggling to get patients ‘through system safely’

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‘We don’t want to see those ambulances outside, we want to get those patients through our system safely in a high quality environment, we’re just struggling to do that at the moment’

A senior doctor has warmed a Welsh super hospital is struggling to get patients “through the system safely”.

Dr Andy Bagwell was speaking as part of a weekly update from the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, intended to inform the public on the pressures facing the health care system in the region and in particular the Grange University Hospital near Cwmbran.

The Grange is widely reported to be struggling to deal with the inevitable pressures contributed to by the pandemic. The Royal College of Physicians found last month that chronic staffing problems and excessive workloads made trainee doctors “scared to come into work”.

There have been multiple reports too of patients waiting in the hospital’s accident and emergency department, or outside in ambulances, due to the department’s struggles to deal with spiralling demand.

Dr Bagwell pointed out that it isn’t only the Grange struggling to cope. WalesOnline has also recently reported on long waits for patients at Morriston Hospital in Swansea and University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

Dr Bagwell said on Thursday: “Things are very very busy and we’re under significant demand on a daily basis at the moment. The number of emergency arrivals at the [Grange University Hospital] are extremely high on a day and night basis.

“The staff are working incredibly hard at the moment. Sadly, I think people will recognise this isn’t a problem unique to Gwent or Wales or the UK as a whole. We’re all under enormous pressure at the moment. We’ve lurched into the winter period and those cumulative numbers of patients attending emergency sites at the moment are very difficult to manage in a timely fashion.

“We don’t want to see those ambulances outside, we want to get those patients through our system safely in a high quality environment, we’re just struggling to do that at the moment.”

Dr Bagwell said the hospital has had a number of incidents where parents had taken their children to minor injury units in the region when their children were seriously ill and should have been treated elsewhere. The health board has previously explained how patients attending the wrong service has added to pressures.

“The emergency department is for life threatening illnesses and serious issues,” Dr Bagwell said. “We have minor injury units on our peripheral sites. I’d like to emphasise those are for minor injuries, not illnesses. We’ve had a number of cases where children have attended those units with serious illnesses and we don’t have paediatric doctors there. The Grange is the only site where we have paediatric doctors.

“There are other services such as 111, GP out of hours, urgent care, and pharmacists. I appreciate those services are under significant pressure and it can be very frustrating trying to get hold of the services you require. But I’d like to reiterate that the emergency department isn’t necessarily the right choice for a lot of patients, and that there are resources out in the community which can do an equally good job as an emergency department which is trying to look after seriously ill patients.”

Some patients have reported waits at the Grange up to 18 hours in recent weeks. Dr Bagwell explained long waits can occur for those whose conditions are deemed less of a priority.

“We try incredibly hard to get a timely assessment of all patients, but there is always going to be someone sicker than you unfortunately,” he added.

“Some patients are experiencing long waits where their illness isn’t as high a priority as other patients unfortunately.”

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