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‘A&E was overflowing with children’: A mother’s experience taking her young daughter to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge

Amid warnings from Cambridge University Hospitals, which runs Addenbrooke’s, that the hospital is under extreme pressure, a mother from East Cambridgeshire shares her story of taking her young daughter to A&E on a Saturday evening (September 25), after she experienced respiratory problems due to a virus. To protect the identify of the child, we are not naming the parent.

Addenbrooke's A&E exterior . Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke's A&E exterior . Picture: Keith Heppell

On the Saturday night we visited, paediatric A&E at Addenbrooke’s was absolutely overflowing with poorly children.

When we first arrived – after a 20-minute wait for someone to answer 111 and then being told to go to hospital – we were asked to sit on chairs in the corridor as no bays were free. But as the hours wore on, more and more children arrived on trolleys. Those children in the corridor were shown to an overflow waiting room. Before long, this too was full. Then we heard people were waiting outside in their cars.

There seemed to be nowhere near enough doctors to cope with the numbers of children arriving. One parent complained his son, who was awaiting X-ray results, had been there for seven hours. Another, whose child was listless and had low oxygen SATS, said she had come in desperation after only being offered a video call with her GP. “How can he listen to my son’s chest over a video call?” she asked.

The vast majority of children seemed to be suffering from chest infections, coughs and breathing difficulties. And with no out-of-hours GP on a weekend there was nowhere else to take a sick child whose heart rate had doubled, was suffering spiking temperatures and was panting for breath.

The air was filled with constant crying.

It was clear staff were under immense pressure, with nurses being deployed every hour to check the temperature, pulse and oxygen levels of those still waiting.

The shift changed at 10pm and more doctors finally arrived and patients started to be seen.

When we were finally seen my child’s breathing had recovered enough to be sent home. We were lucky. But plenty of children there waited a very long time for help, which isn’t good enough. And for those poor staff it was obviously incredibly stressful.

What if all of their working days are like that? How can we ask them to come to work in that situation every day? The NHS is buckling under the strain of under-funding.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

What Cambridge University Hospitals has said

In a recent Q&A with the Cambridge Independent, which you can read in full here, Cambridge University Hospitals warned of the pressure on it services.

A spokesperson said: “Alongside the impact of Covid, we are seeing extremely high demand across all of our services, with people waiting much longer than we would like to access our emergency department and to be admitted to one of our inpatient beds, should that be needed to progress their treatment and recovery. At the same time, the wait for planned surgery is significantly longer than would have been the case before Covid for most of our patients. This is due to significant disruption in our ability to operate safely during this pandemic.

“Despite all of this, we would like to reassure our community that we are making progress in recovering our services, sustaining excellent outcomes and good access within our cancer services and achieving some of the best outcomes in the country for our patients who require intensive care. The clinical effectiveness of our care and the safety of our patients remains our absolute focus as we move forward.”

Asked how the public can help, the spokesperson said: “Please get vaccinated if you haven’t done so already – and be cautious in how you embrace the new freedoms available.

“Please support your NHS by using the right service at the right time, so that our emergency department can keep providing care for people who have a genuinely urgent or emergency healthcare need. If you are unsure where to go for help, visit 111 online or call NHS 111.

“Look up details for local minor injury units. Also take note of our rules on visiting and wearing face coverings, which can be found on our website. It is still a requirement to wear a mask or face covering inside our hospitals.”

Read more

Addenbrooke’s Hospital warns it faces huge demand

Cambridgeshire records highest weekly number of Covid-19 cases since January, driven by infections in children and 40-somethings

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