A shocked patient says he suffered a “truly horrible” 22-hour wait at an A&E ward where he saw injured people become so frustrated that they got up and left.
Robin Jenkins says he and fellow patients were “herded together on hard metal seats” and that he witnessed a man having a heart attack not being taken to a triage room straightaway.
Mr Jenkins said he also saw a woman with a severe facial injury after a fall who had to wait a long time to be seen, and another person collapse onto the floor.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board has apologised for his experience at the University Hospital of Wales explaining that, during the time Mr Jenkins was at the hospital, every clinical area was at full capacity.
Robin told Wales Online: “[Cardiff] was a truly horrible experience.
“There were dozens of people waiting for far longer than they should have, some with life-threatening conditions.
“We were herded together on hard metal seats and under bright lights all day and all night, with the hard-pressed staff doing their best to make sense of the chaos.”
A few weeks earlier, Mr Jenkins had spent eight hours in Cheltenham General Hospital’s emergency department.
Then, as a result of a related complication whilst he was in Wales, he went to the A&E in Cardiff.
He said: “Something is clearly very wrong when, in 2023, with all the technological expertise that exists in our modern world, we have seriously ill people waiting for hours before getting any proper medical attention.
“Things weren’t too bad in my home town of Cheltenham. I was there from 9am until 5pm.
“It was a long wait but I was eventually seen to, thoroughly checked over and sent home with some vitally important medication and instructions to come back to an outpatients clinic a few days later.
“It was obvious that staff were struggling to get through the workload as quickly as they, and their patients, would have liked.
“But it felt like there was a sense of order and progression.
“At Cardiff, however, well – words almost fail me.
“Soon after I arrived, having been advised to go there by a 111 call handler, I was sat close to a man who was having a heart attack.
“To my amazement, he was not taken to the triage room straight away and had to sit in a wheelchair next to reception – while his increasingly stressed family members tried to comfort him.
“Not long afterwards, an elderly lady arrived with a horrendous-looking facial injury she had sustained in a fall.
“Clearly in a great deal of pain, she too had to wait a long time before being triaged.
“Other patients almost begged staff to attend to her because they could see she was so distressed.
“If that wasn’t enough, a man who was in with a suspected heart attack waited patiently next to me and all of our eyes and ears were on a woman in a wheelchair crying out in pain.
“Again, compassion was shown by some of the patients – with one offering her some of her drink.
“The distressing sights and sounds continued, with a woman collapsing onto the floor before patients and staff helped her into the triage room.”
Mr Jenkins, a reporter for Gloucestershire Live, explained how just after midnight, there were still 60 to 70 people waiting in the relatively small holding area.
He said British Red Cross volunteers brought those waiting a hot drink, sandwich and soup in the daytime whilst they waited for their names to be called.
He said: “Nobody dared to stray too far from the waiting area, to go to the hospital’s dining areas for instance, for fear of missing their chance to be seen to.
“Through the night, the only sustenance available was a limited selection of snacks and drinks from a half empty vending machine.
“As we headed into the early hours, people were becoming exhausted and lying down to try to get some sleep.
“A few left the hospital when they were warned again about the long waiting time. Infuriatingly for me, I discovered that four hours had been wasted after I was put onto the wrong waiting list.
“Though there was despair at not being able to get the care we needed after waiting for so long, there was a touch of humour to the night to make us smile.
“The police arrived with a middle aged woman who officers seemingly felt would be better off at A&E than in their custody.
“Perhaps a regular, as staff seemed to know her name, she didn’t seem to be in the right place.
“The only urgency as far as she was concerned was getting a light for her cigarette.
“Then she burst into song, wandered around barefoot and even answered the phone in the triage room when its over-worked lead member had left his desk briefly.
“Later in the night another, more troublesome and foul-mouthed, character arrived. Like the woman, he was surely in the wrong place.
“Seemingly high on drink or drugs, he was told there was nothing wrong with him and he should go home.
“He wasn’t keen on that idea, taking an age to drink a cup of coffee, eat some chocolate and rant and rave at anyone who would listen to him as he sat on the floor at the entrance to the triage room.
“Finally, a security guard managed to persuade him to leave.
“All this was going on while a bored young man pushed his friend around and around in a wheelchair, just to kill some time.
“While these incidents made some of the fed up patients smile a little, they added to the chaos that the staff had to try to deal with.
“The lack of order was shocking. The same names were called out repeatedly.
“It seemed that nobody had a grip on who was still there needing urgent attention and who had given up waiting but had not told staff they were leaving. It was grim.
“While I wondered if I would ever get seen, a man behind me said he was in such pain all the time, he wondered if life was worth living any more.
“I’m not having a pop at the doctors and nurses who were fantastic with me.
“They were caring, polite and professional and I was eventually seen to in Cardiff and finally able to go home.
“But, from my experience, the system they work in is not fit for purpose.
“It’s not good enough for the patients or for the NHS staff trying so hard to help them.”
A spokesperson for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said: “We are very sorry to hear of Robin’s experience when in our in care.
“While we are unable to comment on individual cases, during the time Robin was with us, our health board was at a high level of escalation, with every clinical area at full capacity.
“Our staff are working incredibly hard, often in difficult circumstances to provide the best and most appropriate care, but acknowledge that this is not at the standard we would want.
“The health and social care system across Wales is experiencing significant and sustained pressure, which is having an impact on patient flow within our hospital and waiting times in our emergency unit.
“We are working closely with colleagues across the health system and Welsh Government to identify ways in which we can alleviate pressures and improve the patient experience.
“We would welcome the opportunity to speak with Robin directly and would encourage him to contact our concerns team.”
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