Unsafe staffing levels in Welsh A&Es

Figures uncovered by the Welsh Conservatives have revealed the crisis at the heart of Welsh A&E departments as every single one failed to meet safe staffing levels.

It has led the Party to reiterate calls for safe consultant staffing levels to be put into law in Wales, as has been done for nurses, something the Labour Government rejected two years ago.

According to Freedom of Information requests made to Wales’ health boards, all its major hospitals are falling well short of the recommended ‘baseline’ for staffing levels in emergency departments.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) sets a ‘baseline’ for the number of WTE (working-time equivalent) consultants which should be employed in the department to guarantee safe cover. At present no hospital is close to meeting this baseline in Wales, placing patients in potential danger.

The most understaffed A&E units were in the Hywel Dda health board area, which serves Dyfed, with its three major hospitals recording an average staffing level of 36% of the recommended baseline. Aberystwyth’s Bronglais Hospital only had one consultant when they should have eight.

It was closely followed by Cwm Taf Morgannwg’s figure of 38%. The two health boards had Wales’ the five worst-staffed hospitals between them, as all had fewer than half of the necessary staff.

Despite being the best performing one, The University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff was still nine people short. Some responses yielded more information: funding for A&E consultants in all three of North Wales’ Betsi Cadwaladr health board fell short of the baseline.

The data for April coincided with NHS Wales’ third worst A&E and ambulance waits on record, while the NHS waiting list currently stands at over 700,000 people – 1-in-5 people – with over 70,000 people waiting over two years, around three times the figure as for the whole of England.

The Welsh Conservatives previously called for safe consultant staffing levels during the passage of the Health and Social Care (Quality and Engagement) Act, as did the British Medical Association, and committed to support patients with a new Patient Safety Commissioner in its last manifesto.

The attached table shows the number of consultants available to staff A&E departments in the first full week of April 2022, and how they compare to the recommended RCEM baseline.

Commenting, Welsh Conservative and Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS said:

“It is appalling that patients are waiting record lengths to be seen in A&E as it is, but when that is mixed with dangerous levels of staffing, then the Labour Government must explain why lives are being put at risk and why health boards aren’t even putting aside the funds for more.

“Of course, Labour had the chance to prevent this with safe staffing legislation months ago but, as usual, they rejected our sensible and much desired proposals out of spite.

“The Welsh Conservatives defend the people of Wales day in, day out as we highlight poor public service delivery and put forward solutions – when Labour accuse us of not being Welsh enough, they do so to disguise their own shortcomings after a quarter of century in power.

“Labour need to introduce safe staffing levels for A&E consultants, get a grip on the NHS, and stop breaking all the wrong records.”


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