About: Northern General Hospital / Accident and emergency

I think A&E unit at the Northern General is a disgrace to the NHS.

I'm not referring to the doctors and nurses who are superb, but to the facilities and organization. Apart from the long waiting times [I had to wait for a total of 8h for an assessment of chest pain, which is hardly world class health care], a variety of horrors are encountered by any patient reporting there:

- although there are 3 reception desks, only one is visible when you enter, so everyone queues there unaware that there are 2 other adjacent reception desks

- the receptionists frequently do not use the microphone system, meaning that patients cannot easily hear what the receptionist behind the glass window is saying, and patients themselves have to shout so that the whole waiting room can hear what is said

- the waiting area is far too small with inadequate number of seats crammed together, and patients often left standing

- many patients are obviously very ill, some even being sick, but instead of there being a disposal unit for sick bowls, paper towels, etc they have to be left under chairs

- even the regular waste bins are crammed with old rubbish and overflowing

- rather than having a loudspeaker system and/or display board to call patients when it is their turn, patients are summoned by a nurse calling out their name, which is often inaudible especially if you are in distress, hard of hearing, in the toilet, at the back, or have gone outside for a breath of air during the long wait

- if you miss your call you go to the bottom of the waiting list meaining hours more waiting

- there are no refreshments or food available, except for a cold drinks machine which cannot be used with cash [just card]

- there is not even a water dispenser

- there are no magazines, newspapers, books, or childrens toys so unless you come prepared you have nothing to help you through the long hours

- the unit is a rabbit warren with very poor signage.

I was told to follow a red line but it ended in a locked door

- in the consulting rooms you have to lie on a couch which is not covered with a disposable sheet and which looks, and probably is, stained and dirty, and the couches do not seem to get cleaned/disinfected between patients

- the signage for A&E on the approach roads is poor, and if you go in at the wrong entrance you potentially have a long journey around the whole Northern General site to get to A&E

In short this facility is third world standard, which is probably doing a diservice to third world countries

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Response from Deborah Hopkinson, Patient Experience Co-ordinator, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback about your recent experience.

I was very sorry to read your comments about the delay in being seen in our Accident and Emergency department and the inqedequacies of the waiting area.

Your feedback has been escalated to senior managers for their attention and action within the Accident and Emergency and our Estates departments.

We would like to respond personally and to provide you with details of actions that we intend to take in response to your concerns and would be pleased if you could provide personal details so that we can do this. Please could you therefore contact our Patient Services Team on telephone number 0114 271 1976 or pst@sth.nhs.uk and the team will be able to take from you your contact details.

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Response from Deborah Hopkinson, Patient Experience Co-ordinator, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Emergency Department at the Northern General Hospital are sorry to hear that the patient and her husband had such a negative experience whilst seeking treatment there and have responded as following:

There are times when there are large numbers of acutely unwell patients attending the Emergency Department and the waiting area can be a very busy environment. We do acknowledge that housekeeping can be problematic when there is a high level of attendances. We do have a dedicated team of domestic staff which has been recently reviewed and their duties do include checking the cleanliness of the waiting areas and toilets.

In order to aid the throughput of patients, we are actively pursuing a range of options to substantially improve the situation; including optimising the speed of access to investigations and treatments for all patients in the hospital and recruiting additional staff.

We also have an ongoing programme to improve all patient areas, including the waiting area in the Emergency Department. The waiting room can become crowded at exceptionally busy times, and there is limited space for expansion. However, we are exploring a number of options to optimise what is available, and we have been working with the Design Council on this project.

We would like to provide the assurance that usual practice is to call the patient on three separate occasions and if there is still no response the staff often check outside. If it is felt appropriate, the patient may then be telephoned at home and advised to return to the department.

It is the expectation that trolleys will be covered by a disposable paper sheet, and cleaned between each patient. As a result of a rigorous infection prevention and control programme, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals has amongst the lowest infection rates of all NHS Trusts in the country.

With regard to the availability of refreshments, we can confirm there is a hot drinks machine in the Emergency Department which takes cash, two soft drinks vending machines which take cash and card payments, plus a vending machine containing snacks. No faults were reported at the related time. There are further vending machines in an adjacent corridor on the same floor containing soft drinks, sandwiches, salads, fruit, crisps and snack bars. Staff provide drinking water for patients and relative upon request if appropriate.

We are sorry that signage was found to be poor. We have recently been undertaking two major building projects around the Emergency Department and Huntsman building, which are nearing completion. During the work and diversions, we endeavoured to ensure signage be as accurate as possible. Our estates department plan to review all signage around both areas and make adjustments and improvements where indicated. They will also address signage within the grounds as a whole to direct patients and visitors to the Emergency Department more effectively.

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