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Emergency doctors 'crisis' warning as hospitals continue to miss waiting targets

Published 11/08/2016

June 2016 saw an increasing number of patients attending A&E, with 1,950,754 people treated in hospitals across England
June 2016 saw an increasing number of patients attending A&E, with 1,950,754 people treated in hospitals across England

Major hospitals in England are failing to see almost one in seven patients within four hours, new figures show, as medics warn that emergency staffing has reached crisis levels.

New statistics for June reveal that nearly 15% of people in larger A&E departments and almost 10% of people in all hospitals are not discharged within what is considered the expected time.

The target of seeing 95% of patients within four hours has not been hit by an A&E at any major hospital since July 2013.

It comes the day after the Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned that a gap between supply and demand for emergency doctors is leading to a "real crisis".

NHS England defended the figures, saying they showed "another improvement in performance" at a time when "frontline services continue to come under intense pressure".

But a number of other key targets were also missed by the health service - including on ambulance response times and cancer waiting times.

Hospitals across the country have been blighted by disrupted services in the wake of funding cuts.

A national shortage of emergency doctors also led the Grantham and District Hospital in the East Midlands to announce it was to temporarily close its doors at night.

St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group caused outcry after suggesting financial demands could lead it to ban all non-vital operations for four months.

The Department of Health said that despite shortages in specific A&Es, there were 1,250 extra doctors working in emergency departments compared with 2010.

A spokesman said: "The NHS had its busiest June ever but hospitals are performing well, with nine out of 10 people seen in A&E within four hours - almost 60,000 people per day seen within the standard."

So-called "bed blocking" - which occurs when patients are fit to leave hospital but services such as social care are not in place to look after them - also remains an issue for the health service.

Although the rise in the number of days patients are spending in hospital due to delays was down on the previous month, it is still at its second-highest figure on record at 171,298 days in June.

Ambulance response times have also failed to meet the required standard for the most serious calls in the nine ambulance trusts which provided data.

Calls for heart attacks or when someone stops breathing were only responded to within eight minutes 69% of the time - missing the target of 75% for the 13th month in a row.

Similarly, other life-threatening emergency responses only hit the same target on 62% of occasions. It has missed the standard since January 2014.

Cancer waiting standards also fell short, with around 83% of patients beginning treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, just under 3% below the aimed-for 85%.

Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith said: "This is no way to run the NHS and, with a weak Opposition, we are letting the Tories get away with it. "

British Medical Association council chairman Dr Mark Porter said: "These figures are the latest in a spate of reports that show our health service is reaching a crisis point from a combination of increasing demand and inadequate resources. Huge efforts locally by doctors and other team members are important but are hampered because the Government does not match the rising demand with sufficient investment."

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