Patients are dying in the corridor of an accident and emergency department while waiting for a hospital bed, doctors have revealed.

As many as 40 people at a time have been receiving treatment in a walkway at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton as there is no room in bays and cubicles.

NHS doctors at the hospital have now shared their horror stories of working on the ward, where  some patients are waiting as long as 15 hours for treatment.

Dr Alison Beadsworth, a consultant in the Royal Sussex A&E department, said: “Some of these people may die eventually but certainly having to spend your last few days of your life in a corridor is not what we would wish on our relatives or friends.

"It’s a frequent occurrence.

“The longer people stay in a corridor the higher their mortality rate is.

“We have reached the critical point where we know we are not providing safe enough and dignified care and that is unacceptable. To allow it to happen is shameful.”

'I would be appalled if that was my dad'

Emergency doctors have told The Argus about many incidents in the department including:

  •  35 patients being treated in a corridor on Tuesday, January 10. The oldest was 99, with nearly half over 70
  •  A 75-year-old woman waiting 15 hours to be seen for treatment
  •  One man using a bottle as a urinal in the corridor because there was “nowhere else for him to go”.

Dr Beadsworth said: “One man was lying there in a hospital gown that was undone in his underpants.

The Argus: Dr Alison BeadsworthDr Alison Beadsworth (Image: Alison Beardsworth)

“He was as old as my father. I would be appalled if that was my dad.”

She said doctors had been “telling the trust that we weren’t happy with safety for ages” but the issue was now in the public eye due to the problems being common across other UK NHS trusts.

Emergency departments across the country have told of their struggle to provide treatment, including long waits for ambulance services amid high demand for services.

University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust reported that emergency services had recently seen 1,000 patients a day across their hospitals. The trust runs the Royal Sussex, the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath, Worthing Hospital and St Richard's in Chichester.

Corridor deaths a 'massive red line'

Another senior doctor at the Royal Sussex said the cause of the problems was “systemic”, with deaths in the corridors happening “over and over and over again”.

The doctor, who asked not to be named, added: “The first time it happened in Brighton we thought it was a massive red line and that something really seismic would change.

“The public don’t really understand that the corridors are actual corridor rather than long clinical rooms.

“It was deeply traumatic and shocking for everyone. There’s a lot of distress that people can’t provide the services they want to provide.

The Argus: The outside of the Royal SussexThe outside of the Royal Sussex (Image: Andrew Gardner | The Argus)

“Everyone is physically and mentally exhausted.”

Research published by the Emergency Medicine Journal has found links between overcrowding and delays in admissions to A&E ward beds and excess deaths.

Despite the struggles, doctors at the Royal Sussex heaped praise on their colleagues in the department, commending their dedication and commitment.

One senior doctor said: “The difficulty is that people struggle to separate the people providing the care and the people responsible.

“They can see nurses flying around and never sitting down and crying and trying to do their best.”

Dr Beadsworth said: “I can’t say hand on heart that that is good enough any more.

“That’s what makes me cry on the way home from work and I have been a doctor for 25 years.”

Using corridors 'absolutely not what we would want to do'

Dr George Findlay, chief executive at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our absolute priority is giving the best care possible to patients, whatever the circumstances. We know how hard that is at the moment, but staff are working immensely hard to look after the people who need them, and doing a brilliant job.

"Using corridors or other areas of the hospital for patient care is absolutely not what we would want to do, but there are times when it does become necessary.

The Argus: Royal Sussex County Hospital helipadRoyal Sussex County Hospital helipad (Image: Sussex News and Pictures)

"Even so, our clinical staff continue to assess patients quickly after they arrive and monitor them throughout their stay, even when space is limited. 

"There is also significant investment being made now into community-based services across the wider system to ease pressures on emergency care.

"Our emergency departments remain the best, safest places to go if you are seriously ill or injured, but for everyone else we advise using the alternatives available to help our teams focus on the patients who need them most."