Frail older people are "not being appropriately prioritised" when they attend accident and emergency departments in England, academics have said after a new study found that elderly people are less likely to be seen within target times.
Younger patients with simpler problems are waiting less time for assessments than frail patients with complex care needs, researchers said.
A new study found that people living with frailty and patients with geriatric syndromes are less likely to receive an initial assessment within the target time of four hours.
"Our study demonstrates older people living with frailty may not be appropriately prioritised within the acute care pathway," the authors wrote in the journal eClinicalMedicine.
Researchers, led by academics at the University of Warwick, examined data from 152 hospitals in the UK relating to 7,248 emergency hospital admissions. The data was collected as part of a snapshot audit by the Society of Acute Medicine on 23 June 2022. On this day, some 76.4% of patients were assessed within 4 hours of arriving at hospital.
Lead researcher Daniel Lasserson, professor of acute ambulatory care at the University of Warwick, said: "The data from this study shows a concerning trend across the NHS. Hospitals may not be giving equal priority to our frail and older patients and are favouring younger patients with simpler needs who can be assessed and treated more quickly."
A&E Departments Facing "Tremendous Strain"
Commenting on the analysis, Dr Tim Cooksley, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: "This important study is a further illustration of the tremendous strain that the urgent and emergency care (UEC) is under. We know that older patients are more likely to experience degrading corridor care, and this data illustrates that, with further delays to important components of their care, this increases the likelihood of adverse outcomes."
An NHS spokesman said: "While this analysis of a single day in 2022 does not provide a very full picture, it is right to highlight that older patients with complex care needs often require wider assessment and greater support, which can contribute to longer waiting times.
"Same-day emergency care is one of the many ways the NHS is working to provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time for patients – and this model is helping improve patient flow to in fact enable emergency departments to prioritise those with complex needs and who are in need of wider assessment."