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NHS in England 'performing at worst ever levels' on A&E and cancer targets

The NHS in England is performing at its worst ever level against a raft of targets, including A&E, cancer and people forced to wait on trolleys.

The number of people waiting more than two months to start cancer treatment after an urgent referral was 25,157 in 2016 - the highest on record and up on the 23,760 in 2015 and 13,191 in 2010.

Meanwhile, figures for December reveal just 86.2% of A&E patients were seen within four hours - the worst figure on record. January data leaked to the BBC shows this is expected to drop even further.

Delayed transfers of care - so-called bed-blocking - is also the highest on record.

The total number of hospital days lost to delayed transfers of care were 2,157,155 in 2016, up from 1,747,318 the year before and 1,560,037 in 2014.

Trolley waits refer to people put on trolleys or in side rooms while a bed is found for them in the hospital.

People can sometimes endure long waits for a bed after a decision has been made to admit them. This is on top of the wait they had to be seen in A&E.

The new set of data shows that 2,593 people waited more than 12 hours to be admitted in 2016 - the highest on record and more than double the 1,206 in the previous year and 489 in 2014.

The percentage of patients given hospital treatment within 18 weeks has also fallen below 90% for the first time since March 2011.

At the end of December 2016, the equivalent of 376,877 patients were waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment.

Some 89.7% of treatments had yet to start within 18 weeks, compared with 91.8% in December 2015, against a 92% target.

Ambulance response times were also at low levels, with a significant decline in performance in December.

Just 66.4% of the most urgent calls - such as somebody not breathing - were responded to within eight minutes.

Other serious calls - such as strokes and heart attacks - also saw a decline, with 58.8% responded to within eight minutes.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: "Theresa May has lost control of the NHS this winter and patients are paying the price as target after target is missed and standards of care deteriorate.

"Thousands more people are waiting for treatment, people are stuck in hospitals even when they're well enough to go home, and key standards on cancer care and ambulance response times are being missed.

"These are some of the worst figures we have seen. Experts are saying that standards are being pushed back 15 years or more. Behind each of these statistics is a patient suffering and in unacceptable discomfort. It's making Theresa May's utter disregard for the dire state of the NHS all the more disgraceful."

Matthew Swindells, NHS England's national director for operations and information, said: "NHS frontline services came under real pressure in December with A&E, ambulances and NHS 111 all helping record numbers of patients and callers.

"Despite these pressures, it is a tribute to the professionalism and dedication of doctors, nurses and other staff in A&E that they continue to see, treat, admit or discharge the vast majority of patients within four hours.

"Also of note: the elective admissions growth rate accelerated in the third quarter to September-December, compared with the first six months of the year and the number of longest waiting patients fell this month."

Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said while things have improved slightly this winter, "we are still seeing significant pockets of stress in the system".

He added: "We yet again call on the Secretary of State for Health to acknowledge the crisis. It is blatantly obvious to frontline healthcare workers and, more importantly, the patients they serve, that our NHS can no longer cope."

Provisional data passed to the BBC suggests that of 1.4 million visits to A&E in January, only 82% were dealt with within four hours.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, told members of the NHS England board that the NHS was under pressure, but thanked hard-working staff.

He said a number of measures were needed to stem the rise in A&E attendances, including "substantial changes to 111" and urgent care services.

He said a principal driver of a reduction in the number of beds available in hospitals was delayed transfers of care, which "have gone up by 90% over the past two years".

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We have put record funding into the National Health Service. I recognise that it is under pressure - that's why we will be putting the £10 billion extra into the NHS.

"But if you look at what's been happening in A&E, in December we had a record number - the busiest day in A&E that has taken place in the NHS.

"We are now seeing something like 3,000 more people being seen within the four-hour standard every single day in the NHS.

"The staff working in the NHS are doing an excellent job, day in and day out. We are putting funding in and we are seeing higher numbers of doctors, higher numbers of nurses, higher numbers of paramedics in our hospitals, and they are providing excellent care."

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