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Hospitals on cusp of being 'fully overwhelmed', health experts warn

Published 08/09/2016

The number of people attending A&E soared to nearly six million during the first quarter of 2016/17
The number of people attending A&E soared to nearly six million during the first quarter of 2016/17

Hospitals are on the cusp of being "fully overwhelmed" health experts have warned after a new report highlights that hospitals in England are busier than ever before.

Millions of patients are being seen in A&Es and hospital bed capacities are running at dangerously high levels, according to a new report from The King's Fund.

Relentless demand for services are driving up waiting times in the NHS in England, according to the think tank.

The Quarterly Monitoring Report states that in June, more than 300,000 people were still waiting to begin their treatment more than 18 weeks after they were referred - this includes 940 patients who have been on the waiting list for more than a year.

And the number of people attending A&E soared to nearly six million during the first quarter of 2016/17.

This means that there were an additional 54,000 attendances every month at A&E departments compared to the same time last year, the authors said.

Meanwhile the number of so-called trolley-waits - where an A&E doctor has decided to admit a patient to hospital but they have to wait more than four hours before a bed is found for them on a hospital ward - increased by almost 41,000 patients in the first three months of 2016/17 compared to the first quarter of 2015/16.

And more than 90% of beds are occupied by patients - above the 85% threshold which is considered safe by health experts, the authors said.

At the end of June, 6,100 patients in hospital beds across England were deemed medically fit to leave hospital but still awaiting discharge - the highest number since data collection began in 2007, the authors said.

Richard Murray, director of policy at The King's Fund, said: "Hospitals are treating more patients than ever before.

"Winter usually brings a dip in NHS performance but what is striking now is that key targets are being missed all year round.

"This reflects the impossible task of continuing to meet rising demand for services and maintain standards of care within current funding constraints."

Commenting on the report, Lara Carmona, associate director of policy for the Royal College of Nursing, said: "The NHS is now struggling to cope all year round.

"It is a pressure cooker and with bed occupancy at such constantly high levels and community services stretched, there is nowhere for the pressure to escape to.

"Frontline staff are working hard to deal with these challenges to provide the very best patient care they can.

"It would now take very little for hospitals to be fully overwhelmed."

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association's council, said: "The NHS needs a long-term plan and enough funding to deliver care for everybody in the country.

"Until this happens, we'll continue to see hospitals without enough beds, patients wait longer for treatment and some medically fit patients unable to leave hospital because their social care needs cannot be met."

A Department of Health spokesman said: ""Since 2010 the NHS has dealt with significantly rising demand from our ageing population while improving the quality of care - 5.8 million people were seen in A&E in the first three months of this year and the number treated within the four-hour target continues to rise in the thousands.

"We are committed to delivering a safer seven day NHS which is why we have invested £10 billion to fund the NHS's own plan to transform services in the future."

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