Acute Medicine Doctors Warn of Unprecedented Summer Pressure

Priscilla Lynch 

August 31, 2021

Senior doctors in acute medicine have warned that the current unprecedented summer workload being seen across the NHS “feels like the worst winters most of us can recall”.

Dr Nick Scriven, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine (SAM), said clinicians were seeing “vast numbers” of patients with non-COVID illness alongside those “still very poorly” with COVID-19.

He said many patients were suffering from illnesses typically seen in winter such as respiratory infections – particularly in children – but also large numbers of patients who have seen their health deteriorate over the past 18 months, particularly regards conditions like heart failure, COPD and diabetes-related problems, as well as mental health issues and alcohol-related illness.

“I think it is fair to say we are currently facing an unprecedented summer workload that feels more like the worst winter pressures most of us can recall,” said  Dr Scriven.

“We are also noticing frailer people who have deconditioned over lockdowns so that any illness that previously might have been fairly minor now needs an extended stay in hospital with periods of rehabilitation,” he said.

Dr Susan Crossland, President of SAM, said there was major concern about the fact hospitals are contending with this pressure while running on 10% less beds with all COVID-19 infection control precautions in place.

She also warned staff were exhausted and staffing levels were being hit hard by multiple issues including stress and self-isolation as well as COVID-19 infection – exposing the “gaping holes” which already existed in the workforce.

“This is a deeply concerning time as we are in uncharted territory here with a summer crisis consisting of so many different problems with no end in sight and the daunting prospect of an extremely busy and difficult winter,” Dr Crossland said.

She said it was “absolutely essential” politicians and NHS bosses started thinking about acute medicine as the solution to help the health service weather the storm ahead before it is too late -- noting that a recent warning issued by the Care Quality Commission regarding patient safety in the emergency departments at Aintree and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital highlighted the fragility of the system.

Dr Crossland added that despite acute medical units being integral to the management of emergency departments and the flow of patients, the specialty has been “misused” to the detriment of the system.

“It is so extremely frustrating to us as we know acute medicine holds the key to solving many of the system pressures in the NHS but that is not feasible when it becomes the “go to” solution for helping out in emergency departments, giving up beds for extra capacity or working in sub-standard facilities.”

This article originally appeared on Univadis, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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