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The One-Upping Blind spot.

2 Feb, 17 | by scarley

Sometimes you see things on twitter that upset you. This week I noticed this post from the excellent Shaun Lintern on ‘one-upping’ in hospitals. It’s not a phrase I’ve heard before but it essentially means putting an extra patient on wards above their intended capacity.

Ruth May is the executive director of nursing for the NHS Improvement agency. She is quoted as saying that one upping is not acceptable and that it poses a significant risk to patients. There is little to argue with this but stop and think, what are the consequences for the whole system if one area declines to accept any risk? Does the risk vanish, or does it simply move elsewhere? I suspect that you, like me know that it is the latter.

If one upping is unacceptable does NHS Improvement have any idea what it’s like to work in a UK ED at the moment? Never mind one upping, try 10,11,12,13,14,15 upping your trolley patients. It is so common as to be routine practice in the UK.

Those numbers do not take account of the patients in the waiting rooms who should be on trolleys, but who are on chairs as we’ve run out of trolleys for them to lie on. Is it acceptable to have to give IV opiates to a patient sat on a chair in a corridor with renal colic? Of course not, but that real example is a manifestation of what overcrowding means. It’s incredibly risky for patients as we know that overcrowding causes increased numbers of deaths. Make no doubt about it, overcrowding causes death and disability in our patient populations in the ED.

Ruth May does not state whether her comments apply to the ED and I’m sure she knows about EM overcrowding, but her comments are likely to prevent the sharing of risk across hospitals and services. This could lead to more harm as we know that sharing risk is a positive patient safety move. You should be familiar with Full capacity protocols which are designed to share the load and to avoid the harms that overcrowding causes, but they are yet to catch on in the UK.

Also see www.hospitalovercrowding.com

How on earth can it then be logical to concentrate all that risk in one place, the ED, rather than spread the risk across wards and departments? How can it be wise to ask my team to look after multiple patients on trolleys in corridors as opposed to asking a number of wards to take one extra patient.

It’s illogical, unsafe and dangerous and yet it’s a common strategy in many trusts. The comment above from a UK colleague about crowding this winter will be familiar to many. Corralling the risk in an overcrowded ED is indicative of a hospital that has chosen to concentrate the risk in a single place. It’s bad for patients and it’s bad for staff who burn out as they cope with a deeply unfair, grossly differential and unsustainable workload.

My plea is that when we hear talk of avoiding one upping that it does not inadvertently lead to even greater levels of harm in the ED.

We need strong and vocal leadership to stop this from happening.

vb

S

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