‘Harrowing’ experiences of A&E patients revealed in undercover footage

Truly “harrowing” scenes from an A&E department have been uncovered in a new investigation as a think-tank analyst said people are dying in emergency care in England “who don’t need to be dying”.

Channel 4 says its Dispatches programme has exposed the “suffering and indignity faced by patients on a daily basis” after an undercover reporter secretly filmed himself working as a trainee healthcare assistant inside the emergency department of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital for two months.

Footage shows one patient waiting 30 hours in a “fit to sit” area while a suspected stroke sufferer was there for 24 hours, the broadcaster said.

In one clip, an elderly man is forced to urinate in a trolley on the corridor in full view of staff and other patients while in another a woman is left crying in agony for hours, Channel 4 said.

The broadcaster says it has uncovered poor hygiene and infection control practices, a makeshift ward which had no sinks and insufficient plug sockets, and patients being forced to wait up to four-and-a-half hours in ambulance queues.

There is also a scene supposedly showing ambulance crews leaving their patients without giving hospital staff a proper handover.

Earlier this month, a message sent to Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust staff – seen by Dispatches – warned that urgent and emergency care services were under “significant pressure” due to “high demand”.

NHS England, responding to the documentary, said what was observed “is not commonplace in A&Es across the country and is not acceptable”, while the trust said it intends to fully investigate the claims.

A Freedom of Information request by Dispatches to NHS England found almost 400,000 patients were waiting in A&E for more than 24 hours in the 12 months from April 2023 to March 2024, a 5% rise on the same period last year.

This included 54,000 who spent more than 48 hours in A&E and almost 19,000 who were there for 72 hours.

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “I don’t think this is unique to this hospital by any stretch of the imagination.

“The things we’ve seen here today are clearly not just confined to winter. It was a year-round crisis in emergency care.

“Spending two days in an emergency department is worse than spending two days in an airport lounge. These are people who are sitting in uncomfortable seats where the lights never go off. There’s constant noise, there’s constant stress. There’s no end in sight.

“People will miss their routine medications. They’ll be next to people who can infect them with other diseases. It’s just not acceptable.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund, said: “Some of the scenes in tonight’s Dispatches are truly harrowing. NHS services are meant to be places of safety and it should be a wake-up call to senior leaders and politicians that this isn’t always the case.

“That could be any one of a number of hospitals up and down the country, which is absolutely staggering.

“I think the standard of A&E care in England is in about as deep a hole as I’ve seen in the last 20 years. So, whatever government comes in, they have a huge task to recover performance.

“However bad you think it is, how bad the stats are. It’s worse. You’ve got people dying in A&E departments in England in 2024 that don’t need to be dying.”

In October last year, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected eight core services provided by the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust, finding areas of concern in relation to quality and safety, and the responsiveness of urgent and emergency care.

Lorraine Tedeschini, CQC director of operations for the Midlands, said: “The trust’s emergency departments were overcrowded and patients faced lengthy delays.

“We had significant concerns about the oversight of patients waiting to be seen and the ability of staff to identify and quickly act when people’s health was at risk of deteriorating.

“We took enforcement action to make clear to the trust that action must be taken to address those issues and ensure people are not at risk, and we have been monitoring their progress closely.”

Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: “What has been observed in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust in recent weeks is not commonplace in A&Es across the country, and is not acceptable, and we are continuing to offer the trust the highest level of national support to improve care for patients.”

A patient sits in a hospital bed with a blood pressure cuff attached to his arm
The trust is to launch an investigation into the claims (Peter Byrne/PA)

The latest figures show more than one in four people waited longer than the target of four hours in A&E, according to the King’s Fund.

Patients are waiting 33 minutes on average for an ambulance in emergency cases such as strokes and heart attacks, when the target is 18 minutes, the think-tank said.

A spokesperson for the hospital trust said: “As with other hospitals, our trust is facing significant challenges with urgent and emergency care.

“We understand our challenges and are investing in our services and making steady improvements as a trust, as noted in our recent CQC report. However, there is still much more to do; we do not want to be in a position where we are caring for patients in corridors.

“We are very sorry that our patients have experienced anything less than the quality care we strive for and we are determined, working with partners, to improve the care and experience for everyone.

“Our colleagues are working incredibly hard to maintain safe services and we are grateful for everything they are doing to support our patients in this difficult working environment.

“Whilst we dispute some of the claims made in the Dispatches programme, we will fully investigate all of the claims to identify and embed any learning into our continuous improvement work.

“We remain committed to being open and transparent with our patients and staff and encourage anyone with concerns to contact our PALS team.”

Undercover A&E: NHS in Crisis – Dispatches – is due to air on Channel 4 at 9pm on Monday.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “These findings paint a distressing picture of what the Conservatives have done to our NHS over the past 14 years.

“People are forced to wait entire days in agony, they are being denied their dignity, and lives are lost avoidably.

“The Conservatives are not being honest about the state of the NHS, but Labour will: the NHS is broken. It can’t go on like this, but the only way to get change is to vote for it.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “Labour can continue to snipe from the sidelines all they wish but their record in Wales speaks for itself.

“In Labour-run Wales, they’ve got the longest NHS waiting lists on record, with one in four people waiting for treatment, and patients waiting nearly seven weeks longer than those in England.

“It’s a glimpse at what Keir Starmer’s ‘blueprint’ for government looks like – they’d do it in England and put taxes up on working people by £2,094 to fund it.”