The majority of departments (EDs) – 75 per cent – were unable to maintain social distancing at least once a week, with a quarter unable to do so every day. Eighty per cent said they were unable to offload ambulances at least one day per week.
The figures emerged in a survey of 89 senior clinicians, representing up to 110 EDs. They submitted their responses for the week ending October 11.
RCEM president Dr Katherine Henderson said the findings illustrated the "perilous state" EDs are in as they head into winter, and called for urgent action to ensure they are safe for patients.
She said: "The rate of infection in the community must be brought down. If Covid cases continue to rise, EDs are at risk of becoming a hub of transmission. We cannot let that happen. EDs must be safe for patients this winter.
"NHS leaders and organisations must recognise the huge risk that crowding poses and take urgent action so that EDs are sufficiently prepared to deal with Covid while remaining open for essential urgent and emergency care."
The survey comes as the College launched its updated five-point plan, RCEM CARES, to improve EDs in the short and long term. It focuses on the key areas of crowding, access, retention, experience and safety.
It calls for:
- at least 19,000 extra UK hospital beds
- an additional 2,770 emergency medicine consultants
- an expansion of primary care services, including 6,000 extra GPs
- investment in social care of at least £3.9 billion in England alone by 2023-24
- a review of the UK’s preparedness for further waves of the coronavirus pandemic.