NHS hospitals saw an “unprecedented summer surge” in July, with a record almost 2.2 million patients attending A&E in England, health officials said.
NHS trusts reported respiratory problems being higher than expected for this time of year, as well as greater than usual numbers of cuts, sprains and fractures which placed additional pressure on services.
NHS England said accident and emergency departments helped 100,000 more people in July compared with nearly 2.1 million in the same period last year – a 5% increase – while the number of emergency admissions rose by 6.3%.
A spokesman said: “As temperatures soared, the NHS saw an unprecedented summer surge last month with a record 2.2 million patients attending A&E, and, thanks to the hard work of staff, nine in 10 people were seen, treated and admitted or discharged within four hours.”
Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the heatwave had also led to increases in attendances and admissions in those suffering from dehydration, particularly the frail elderly.
He said the added pressure on services could be bad news for the coming winter, when trusts face their busiest time.
“What is of particular concern now, however, is that the summer months are traditionally the time acute hospitals and frontline staff have to recharge the batteries – this year we have had no respite and draining conditions,” he said.
“Last year NHS leaders admitted it took until October to recover from winter 2017 and we are now only a few months away from the next onslaught.”
Donna Kinnair, director of nursing policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This summer’s heatwave has hit healthcare services hard. With rising A&E attendance and admissions, hospitals up and down the country are now seeing winter conditions in summer, putting extra pressure on services that have barely recovered from the cold weather earlier this year.
“Nurses are seeing more cases of heart failure, renal failure and dehydration – all conditions linked to hotter weather.
“Older people are particularly at risk. With 20% more trusts breaching the four-hour A&E target in July compared to June, it’s clear our understaffed services are struggling to cope.
“It is vital (Health Secretary) Matt Hancock uses some of the extra £20 billion promised to the NHS to alleviate the worsening staff shortages that are crippling our healthcare services.”
Other statistics released on Thursday show the 14-day wait target from GP referral for suspected cancer to first outpatient appointment has been missed for a whole quarter, for the first time since records began in 2008/09.
This is concerning at a time of the year when the NHS should have some respite from winter pressuresTim Gardner, Health Foundation
Between April and June 91.4% of patients with suspected cancer urgently referred by a GP were seen within 14 days, below the target of 93%.
Meanwhile 80.8% of patients with suspected cancer started treatment within 62 days of being urgently referred by a GP, below the target of 85% for the 18th consecutive quarter, and the worst quarterly performance against this target since records began.
Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: “This is concerning at a time of the year when the NHS should have some respite from winter pressures, and there is a similar picture of longer waits for emergency care and planned surgery as demand exceeds capacity.
“These latest figures are a stark reminder of the tough choices faced by the Government on where to best invest the money from the recent funding settlement.”