A&E figures show fresh improvement
Waiting times in accident and emergency departments at NHS hospitals in England have improved for the third week in succession, but still failed to meet the target of 95% of patients seen within four hours.
Statistics released by NHS England showed that 93% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within the four-hour limit in the week ending January 25, up from 92.4% the previous week.
Some 7,500 patients waited more than four hours for admission, which NHS England said was a "significant" decrease from the 8,900 recorded in the previous week and 12,000 the week before.
NHS England's director of operations and delivery, Dr Sarah Pinto-Duschinsky, described the figures as "encouraging" and said the improvement had been achieved despite a week-on-week increase in numbers of patients attending casualty.
"Bed-blocking" rose to its highest level this winter - and higher than at any point last year - with 4,300 hospitals beds unavailable for incoming patients because of delays in transfers of occupants to care elsewhere, up from 4,200 in the previous week.
Dr Pinto-Duschinsky said NHS England was "maintaining our focus and we are determined to improve on the current position" on delayed transfers of care.
"We have put in place robust plans to address this - with the £5.3 billion Better Care Fund providing support to local schemes designed to help join up hospitals and community-based health and social care," she said.
"Another £37 million has been allocated by the Department of Health to local authorities who are currently facing additional winter pressures, which will be used to assist people in their own homes and reduce the risk of potential admission or re-admission to hospital."
Some 389,000 patients attended A&E last week, up from 377,000 the previous week but still short of the 440,000 peak experienced shortly before Christmas. The level of emergency admissions also increased to 104,200, up from 102,300 last week and from 103,700 in the same week last year.
Dr Pinto-Duschinsky said: "A&E performance continues to climb. It is encouraging for the third week running that waiting times have improved and well over nine out of ten patients are being seen within four hours.
"This has been achieved despite increases in the number of A&E attendances and emergency admissions which are up week-on-week and up on the same week last year, but below the extreme record levels we experienced over the Christmas period.
"With severe weather and snow in many parts of the country, we are urging people - particularly the elderly - to stay warm and consult their pharmacist or GP if they become unwell."
The NHS 111 advice phoneline had 242,000 calls for the week ending January 25, up from 234,000 the previous week, but a dramatic reduction on the peak of 439,000 for the week ending December 28. The percentage of 111 calls answered in 60 seconds was 95.4%.
NHS England said that the additional £700 million provided by the Government to help cope with winter pressures has allowed the recruitment of an extra 700 doctors, 4,500 nurses and more than 3,000 other staff, making it possible to add 900 general beds, more than 2,700 acute and specialist beds and more than 1,500 beds for recovering patients.