The number of in-hospital beds in Sweden has decreased during recent decades, resulting in the smallest number (2.2 available beds/1000 inhabitants) within the European Union. At the same time, the number of patients attending Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments has increased, resulting in overcrowding and boarding. The aim of this study was to explore the meaning of being subjected to boarding at an A&E department, as experienced by patients. A phenomenological-hermeneutic approach was chosen to interpret and understand the meaning of boarding at A&E. The study was carried out at a hospital in the south of Sweden. Seventeen participants with a mean age of 64 years (range: 35-86 years) were interviewed. The thematic structural analysis covers seven themes: Being in a state of uncertainty, Feeling abandoned, Fearing death, Enduring, Adjusting to the circumstances, Being a visitor in an unsafe place, and Acknowledging the staff, all illustrating that the participants were in a state of constant uncertainty and felt abandoned with no guidance or support from the clinicians. The conclusion is that the situation where patients are forced to wait in A&E, i.e., boarding, violates all conditions for professional ethics, presumably causing profound ethical stress in the healthcare professionals involved. Thus, boarding should be avoided.
Keywords: A& E; boarding; crowding; emergency department; ethics; phenomenological-hermeneutic; qualitative study; suffering.