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Hospitals in England ‘endured one of worst winters on record’

Patients are waiting longer for ambulances, treatment and admission.

Hospitals in England have “endured one of the worst winters on record”, a crisis set to become an all-year-round norm, figures show.

Bed occupancy, delayed transfers of care and waits at A&E were all found to be increasing, according to the latest British Medical Association (BMA) analysis of NHS performance in the country.

The analysis showed patients waiting longer for ambulances, treatment and admission, with a 6,831% rise in the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours on a trolley over the past seven years.

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(PA graphic)

Over the first three months of 2017, bed occupancy on general and acute wards was 91.4%, the highest figure recorded, the medical union said.

Beds occupied by mental health patients were also shown to be at an all time high at the end of 2016, with 89.7% of beds filled.

And between the start of December 2016 and the middle of March 2017, the BMA noted that 94 of 152 trusts issued major alerts on at least one day to say they could not cope.

The “startling” findings follow a mild winter, with the average temperature in January only slightly under the historic average level, the BMA said.

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A hospital bed (Lynne Cameron/PA)

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chairman, said hospitals had “endured one of the worst winters on record”.

He said: “This new analysis is particularly stark because it wasn’t a bad winter in terms of external factors. The weather was mild and there were no widespread outbreaks of flu or norovirus.

“The pressure the NHS is under is purely down to bad political choices, with years of chronic under-funding and investment in services failing to keep up with patient demand.

“Politicians are consistently missing their own targets across the health system and the NHS is clearly at breaking point.

“Pressures previously only seen during the winter months are now becoming the norm year-round, as current trends suggest that performance will continue to deteriorate rather than improve.”

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Dr Mark Porter (Aisling Ennis/PA)

As the snap general election approaches, the BMA is calling for politicians “not to duck this crisis any longer” and agree on a long-term solution to protect the NHS.

An NHS England spokesman said: “As today’s public NHS England board meeting heard, March 2017 saw better A&E and ambulance performance than last year and waits for elective care got shorter, continuing the trend seen in the last few months and bringing the average wait down to only just over six weeks.

“Occupancy rates also compare favourably thanks to more than 580 more beds being available than the same month last year.”

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