'Unsafe, undignified, unacceptable'

Our survey of emergency nursing staff in England reveals the difficulties of providing corridor care. 
Join our safe staffing campaign to show ministers and NHS leaders we need action

“Dignity is the first thing patients are stripped of when queueing for care in a dark cold corridor, closely followed by safety.”

It’s only a matter of time before an innocent life is lost or a nurse is taken to court for falling to provide impossible care

“It’s not uncommon to have up to 20 patients on the corridor at any one time. The nurse-to-patient ratio and corridor care is unsafe, undignified and unacceptable.”

This is corridor care in 2020.

This is how treatment is being delivered to NHS patients waiting to be seen in A&E, and to those who have been judged sick enough to admit to hospital but for whom a bed cannot be found. 

These shocking accounts are just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of our members surveyed say that providing care to hospital patients in corridors and other cramped and unsuitable non-clinical areas has become normal.

In fact, a new survey* of our Emergency Care Association members in England shows almost three-quarters of respondents provide corridor care on a daily basis.

Corridor nursing infographic

Nursing staff are being put under intolerable pressure to keep patients safe, with 90% of respondents saying the safety of patients is being compromised.

Nursing patients in corridors has become such a regular occurrence, nearly half of nursing staff responding to our survey told us the term “corridor nursing” is formally used in their workplace. An additional 40% of respondents say it is used informally.

The unacceptable consequences of providing care in corridors include difficulty in administering urgent intravenous antibiotics, a lack of privacy and dignity, and increased distress in patients, particularly those with mental health problems.

Highlighting the challenges

David Smith, Chair of the RCN Emergency Care Association, was the driving force behind the RCN’s survey. He wanted to highlight the specific challenges faced by nursing staff working in emergency care settings. 

“This is not what we came into nursing for,” he says. “It’s not just undignified for patients, it’s also often unsafe.”

He says the survey responses show how demoralised nursing staff feel about working in these conditions and fears this could deter people from embarking on this unique and rewarding career. 

But it’s not only about A&E departments. Corridor care is symptomatic of huge, system-wide issues.

This is not what we came into nursing for

More people are coming to A&E because they can’t get an appointment with their GP and this is happening alongside the problems in the hospital itself, such as delayed discharge or delayed implementation of social care packages.

David adds: “We need more staff not just in emergency departments, but also on hospital wards so that more beds can be opened, and in the community so that patients can be saved from going to hospital in the first place.”

Our campaign for safe nurse staffing across the UK calls for investment in the nursing workforce. Get involved today.

Further information

Words by Sharon Palfrey

*The Emergency Care Association (ECA) represents RCN members working in emergency care.  The survey was sent to all ECA members in England, a total of 7,106, with 1,174 responses received.

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