Patients are still dying in the corridors of an emergency department and staff say A&E will get busier this winter.

More than 40 patients are being squeezed into corridors due to a lack of room in bays and cubicles at the Royal Sussex County Hospital with “no limit” to the numbers being treated.

Staff say they are now preparing for a long winter as the situation is “getting worse” with some patients spending more than a day in the corridor.

Hospital bosses said they were "acting now" to ease the strain on staff but admitted that pressures were "incredibly high and rising". They stressed that A&E remains the best place for anyone who genuinely needs emergency care, in spite of the current challenges.

The revelations come nearly a year after The Argus first reported the grave situation in the department.

'It’s an affront to their dignity'

Incidents uncovered by members of staff included a patient suffering a cardiac arrest in a bay while surrounded by patients on trolleys in the corridor.

Due to the number of patients in the corridor, staff had to move furniture to be able to get equipment to them.

The Argus: The Royal Sussex County Hospital's Barry BuildingThe Royal Sussex County Hospital's Barry Building (Image: Sussex News and Pictures)

Emergency staff also told The Argus of multiple incidents in the department including:

  • A total of 43 patients being treated in the corridor on October 30.
  • Patients spending more than a day in the corridor.
  • Doctors having to resuscitate patients with other patients within touching distance.
  • Nurses looking after 20 patients each when they would normally look after five.

The Argus visited the Royal Sussex County Hospital emergency department and saw patients on trolleys parked within touching distance of each other. We will be publishing our report online tomorrow morning.

One member of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We simply don’t have the room. We don’t have the staffing levels. We have to allocate two nurses to the corridor.

“One patient could reach through their trolley and touch another patient.

“It’s an affront to patients’ dignity to have people lying exposed in public areas.

“The alternative [to the corridor] would be to keep ambulances on the road.”

'We keep on shifting the red lines and saying this used to be unacceptable.'

The Argus first reported that patients were dying in the corridors in January, with one doctor saying that corridor deaths were a “massive red line”.

Now, a senior doctor at the Royal Sussex says that red line “keep on shifting” as the hospital struggles to meet demand. They added that corridor deaths “don’t stand out as being an exceptional event anymore”.

The Argus: Accident and Emergency DepartmentAccident and Emergency Department (Image: The Argus)

The doctor, who also wished to remain anonymous, said: “We used to say that our red line was about 14 people in the corridor. Now we are saying it’s in the 40s.

“We keep on shifting the red lines and saying this used to be unacceptable.

“Although it’s an awful thing to have to report, it [a corridor death] was massive at the time but the more things like that happen the more used you get to it. Now it may not be such a headline event.”

A consultant estimated there was an excess death in the department for every 85 patients who spend an extended time in the corridor.

'I saw someone with photos and their own bedding in an A&E cubicle'

Members of staff also spoke about the root causes of the pressures on the emergency department, adding that a lack of funding for social care and a lack of mental health beds.

Issues include having scores of patients who are medically fit for discharge but cannot leave due to no beds being available outside of hospital.

Other patients who would usually be treated in a mental health clinic are also living in A&E due to a lack of available beds elsewhere.

The Argus: The Royal Sussex County HospitalThe Royal Sussex County Hospital (Image: Andrew Gardner | The Argus)

One doctor said: “The problem with the whole system is the lack of investment in social care.

“I saw someone with photos and their own bedding in an A&E hospital cubicle.”

A nurse within the department said that one mental health patient had been in the department for 45 days.

Another member of staff added: “There are 100 to 120 medically fit for discharge patients in the hospital. These are beds that patients could be going into.

“The other issue is the lack of mental health beds - people should be in a mental health hospital but some people are living in A&E.

“One person has been in A&E for a month. There are usually between eight and 11 mental health patients and most of them are there for more than a week.

“It’s overcrowded and it takes a bed but there's nowhere else to put them.”

'Our staff are doing incredible things, every day'

Dr Andy Heeps, chief operating officer at University Hospitals Sussex said: "The pressures on patient services - both locally and elsewhere - are incredibly high, and rising. Our staff are doing incredible things, every day.

The Argus: Dr Andy HeepsDr Andy Heeps (Image: University Hospitals Sussex)

Read the full hospital statement : 'We're the best place for you, we'll give you the care you need, please come to us'

"Nobody can simply make those pressures go away, but we can and must do everything possible to make sure patients and their carers get the best possible care.

"The message to patients is simple - if you genuinely need emergency care, then A&E remains the best place for you to go. If you need help or advice and it isn't an emergency, there are other places to go which are better - and often quicker - options for you."

Dr Heeps added that the hospital was "acting now" to try and ease the pressure on staff including opening a new surgical assessment unit in Brighton.