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The British Geriatrics Society is the professional body of specialist doctors, nurses, therapists and other professionals concerned with the health care of older people in the United Kingdom.

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Age and Ageing  is the British Geriatrics Society’s international scientific journal. It publishes refereed original articles and commissioned reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology.

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In their own words: doctors' experiences on the NHS frontline

•         ‘Patients are dying as a result of not accessing specialist care, as the hospitals are jam-full’         

•         ‘My hospital has 99 delayed discharges and 60 medical outliers in surgical beds’

•         ‘…we are taking the least risky, least unsatisfactory of two equally unsatisfactory options…’

•         ‘One patient spent so long waiting for social care that her family were bringing in IKEA furniture to make her hospital bed area ‘more homely’’

•         ‘…things I never expected to see…the corridor folder…’

•         ‘We started the day 73 beds down…’ 

A new RCP publication collates the experiences of doctors on the NHS frontline over the last couple of months.

‘Against the odds; Experiences from the NHS frontline’ features anecdotes that describe the intense pressure the NHS has undergone recently. The report also includes a description of a hospital stay by a member of the RCP’s Patient and Carer Network:

•         ‘I was shocked when I arrived at the admissions unit at 6.30 am on the day of my surgery.  There were about 30 patients waiting for beds before surgery could begin.  I was beginning to feel as though I was held in a cattle pen…I began to feel that quality of life is not something the NHS is striving for.  It is now purely about survival.’

These contributions throw into stark relief the day-today difficulties faced by consultant physicians in doing their best for patients. Doctors were working much longer shifts to ensure patients were safe and cared for, putting themselves at risk of burnout due to the gruelling conditions:

•         ‘Many of my colleagues who were on 6-hour shifts for wards(…) were here for 10 hours… I will be doing the same tomorrow and until we have a safer position… my acute physician colleague had to work as the only medical registrar for the whole shift – as well as doing the consultant role.’

The RCP believes patients and communities deserve an NHS that is funded and staffed to meet their needs, now and in the future.  ‘Against the odds: Experiences from the NHS frontline’ reaffirms the RCP’s recommendations as set out in 2016’s ‘Underfunded, underdoctored, overstretched’ report, and in RCP Council Members letter to the Prime Minister in January 2017:

•         Invest in health and social care

•         Support NHS staff to deliver excellent care

•         Improve the working lives of NHS staff

RCP president Professor Jane Dacre said:

‘Against the odds’  not only shines a spotlight onto the real experiences of consultant physicians when facing bed shortages, staff shortages and a lack of resources, but also shows their extraordinary dedication to duty, knowing as they do that patient safety depends on it.  I am so proud of our members for their commitment and grace under pressure, but it should not have to be like this – we need the government to start listening, investing, and supporting the NHS to give patients the service they deserve.’ 

Against the odds: Experiences from the NHS Frontline’ collates hospital doctors’ experiences of working in NHS hospitals between December 2016 and January 2017.  Experiences were sought from a group of 50 senior physicians and members of the RCP’s Patient and Carer Network, with additional examples from the RCP’s wider membership. Experiences have been themed, anonymised and edited for clarity.  Quotations as written in this report have been approved by original authors as a true record of their comments. 

For further detail on RCP recommendations see:


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