‘Corridor care’ in hospitals becoming the new norm warns RCN

26 Feb 2020

Our survey of emergency nursing staff in England reveals the difficulties of providing care to patients in cramped and unsuitable locations.

Beds in a hospital corridor

In January, more than 1,000 members of our Emergency Care Association took the time to give us their views on the extent of “corridor care” in England.

These detailed responses added to our understanding of the issue, how extensive this practice has become and how it impacts on nursing staff and patients.

The results show that providing care to hospital patients in corridors and other non-clinical areas is becoming normalised, with almost 90% of those surveyed saying the term “corridor nursing” is now being used at their trust. Nine out of 10 say the safety of patients is being compromised as a result. 

NHS nursing care is increasingly being delivered in this way to patients waiting to be seen at A&E, and to those who have been judged sick enough to admit to hospital, but for whom a bed cannot be found. 

Nearly three-quarters of respondents told us they provide care to patients in a non-designated area such as a corridor on a daily basis. A further 16% say they do the same at least once a week. 

Survey respondents highlighted a number of serious problems in providing care in corridors, such as the difficulty of administering urgent intravenous antibiotics, lack of access to toilet facilities for patients, lack of privacy and dignity, and increased distress for patients, particularly those with mental health problems.

David Smith, Chair of the RCN’s Emergency Care Association and an experienced A&E nurse in London, said: “As specialist emergency nurses, we are in a privileged position, as we care for people when they need help most. But we’re starting to see more and more care delivered in completely unsuitable locations, as this survey shows.  

“The responses reveal how demoralised nursing staff feel about working in these conditions – they are simply not sustainable and could deter future nurses from embarking on this unique and rewarding career.” 

The RCN does not support corridor nursing nor the provision of any care in a non-designated clinical area. Any aspect of care being given in a corridor is indicative of “patient flow” in the whole hospital setting, not of the care emergency departments are trying to provide. The nursing staff shortage contributes to issues with flow in and out of emergency care. 

The RCN is running a campaign on safe nurse staffing across the UK calling for investment in the nursing workforce by government and NHS leaders. In England, we’re also calling on the government to restore payments for tuition fees for student nurses, and for maintenance grants to be sufficient to cover students’ actual living costs.

It’s the RCN’s stance that standard operating procedures should be in place to escalate when corridor nursing is happening and for organisational and inter-organisational decisions to determine how additional patients are accommodated across the service rather than solely in emergency department corridors.

Across all settings, the RCN will prioritise supporting nursing staff to increasingly escalate safety concerns. We’re currently developing guidance that will support our members to speak up without fear of repercussion. 

Joining the Emergency Care Association is free for RCN members and will enable you to share best practice and find support from peers on a closed Facebook group.


Page last updated - 01/07/2021