Responding to a tweet about prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans to transform the NHS into “a blockbuster health care system in the age of Netflix”, Twitter user @SittonGary uploaded a video taken in the waiting room at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, on Monday, which shows a nurse spelling out the situation her staff were currently facing.
Standing in front of the crowded room, she spoke honestly to the people who were waiting to see a doctor: “We’ve currently got 170 patients in the department. That’s one seven zero, quite a few. There are 90 patients waiting to be seen at the moment. That’s nine zero. 90 of you are still waiting to be seen.”
The nurse also revealed the amount of time she thought it would take for those waiting to be seen – and it wasn’t good news for anyone.
“Our current wait time for a doctor is seven-and-a-half hours,” she explained. “I will estimate that by the time I go home in the morning at eight o’clock, some of you will still be here waiting for a doctor, because the wait will get up to 12 or 13 hours, I will expect that.
“There are currently no beds in the Trust; we are trying to make some space if we can, but if people are admitted there’s a chance they might stay in A&E for the night. We will make you comfortable; we will do our best and will look after you, but please don’t expect that you’ll be going straight to a ward – that may not happen.”
The nurse also told those who felt particularly unwell to let the reception staff know, and asked relatives of those in need of assistance to leave the waiting room to make space.
Unsurprisingly, the video has picked up a lot of traction since it was first posted on Tuesday afternoon, with numerous news outlets and Twitter users reposting it over the last few days.
Some NHS staff have even been sharing their own experiences in light of the video, painting a picture of a service which is constantly struggling to meet demand.
“This is happening up and down the country,” read one response from a doctor. “My hospital had an eight-hour wait and patients waiting in A&E for a bed for 19 hours+ At the START OF SUMMER. Not winter. SUMMER. When bed pressures are meant to be at their lowest. When will we admit the NHS is irretrievably broken?”
“This is the same across the whole of the NHS,” added a student nurse. “I just finished two long days in the ED [emergency department]. I saw one person when they first arrived on Monday morning. By Tuesday evening, they were still sat in a chair by the nurse’s station, awaiting a bed. People are sleeping on our floors.”
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has also responded to the video after he was shown the footage during an appearance on the BBC.
Admitting that NHS staff were facing “incredible pressures” and that the video was not “anything that anyone ever wants to see,” Javid said: “Because of the impact of Covid, we know already from our NHS estimates, we think some 11 to 13 million people stayed away from the NHS because of the pandemic.
“Many of those people are coming forward, many of those to A&E, and we’re seeing very high levels of demand. That is a real challenge for the NHS across the system.”
Javid went on to say that the government was investing “record amounts” into sectors of the NHS such as ambulance trusts, the 111 calling service and A&E facilities across the country.
“I think the NHS is doing everything it possibly can be doing,” he added. “The waiting times are improving, but it’s not what anyone wants to see, those kinds of waits.”
Stephanie Lawton, chief operating officer at The Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, said the hospital’s emergency care services were experiencing “extremely high demand”.
“Our teams are working hard to assess and treat patients as quickly and effectively as possible to reduce delays, prioritising those in most clinical need,” she said in a statement.
“The public can help us to ease pressures by using the NHS 111 service for healthcare advice in non-urgent cases. As ever, please continue to call 999 or attend the emergency department for urgent and life-threatening emergencies.”