Male senior patient sitting in a hospital ward on a hospital bed

According to recent research, frail elderly individuals are twice as likely as younger patients to encounter prolonged A&E waits, leading to concerns about their potential lower prioritisation for treatment.

A study published in eClinicalMedicine found that only 35% of elderly patients received an initial assessment within the target timeframe of four hours. This is compared to 76% for all patients, according to an NHS hospitals audit which took place last year.  

The research, which was led by the University of Warwick, in collaboration with the University of Birmingham's Professor Liz Sapey, Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, evaluated data from a snapshot audit of 152 UK hospitals, focussing on 7,248 emergency hospital admissions. This data was collected on June 23, 2022 as part of the audit by the Society of Acute Medicine. 

Our research suggests that frailty is correlated with delays in clinical assessment. This correlation could potentially imply a larger problem facing our healthcare system regarding clinical prioritisation, and this should be considered as part of acute care policy.

Professor Liz Sapey, Consultant in Acute Internal and Respiratory Medicine, University of Birmingham

The study suggests the difference in these assessment outcomes may be partially explained by the use of different care pathways for same-day emergency care. When analysing older patients assessed outside of same-day emergency care, geriatric syndrome was still associated with a decreased likelihood of being assessed within 4 hours. 

This study shows for the first time that frailty is associated with clinical process outcomes in acute care.