More than 100,000 A&E patients waited for hours for beds in hospitals during January – the highest number since records began, NHS figures show.
There were 100,578 patients delayed more than four hours, of whom 2,846 waited more than 12 hours from decision to admit to admission, according to performance statistics released by NHS England.
For both delays, this is the highest number of so-called trolley waits since records began.
It is an increase of 20.4% and 353.9% respectively from the same month a year ago, when there were 83,554 four-hour waits and just 627 12-hour waits.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the figures show the strain on the NHS is “relentless, deepening and showing no sign of recovery”.
BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “With nearly 200,000 people waiting over four hours on a trolley so far this winter – 56,000 more than the same time last year – and almost six times more people waiting over 12 hours on trolleys this winter compared to last, the Government is simply failing to get a grip on winter pressures.
“Stories of patient deaths on corridors, rammed emergency departments and cancellations of patients’ procedures as a daily occurrence are becoming the new norm as doctors across the country say they are exhausted and run into the ground.
“This is an unacceptable situation for a civilised health service; it is failing patients and is not sustainable.”
The NHS figures also show that ambulances attended 750,238 incidents in January, making it the busiest January on record.
An NHS spokeswoman said January had seen improved A&E performance and faster ambulance response times compared with December.
She said: “This was aided by the sustained hard work of NHS staff, and the ability to open and staff more hospital beds than last year.
“This means that the NHS is well prepared to deal with the potential impact of coronavirus, although it remains important that anyone with health concerns should contact NHS 111.”
This performance data ... is not any reflection on the mammoth efforts of frontline staff to deliver in almost impossible circumstancesDr Nick Scriven
Dr Nick Scriven, past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “The fact the NHS is teetering on the brink is now such common knowledge that it is no longer a shock to see continuous failure to meet performance targets and, even today, with the figures showing the worst ever performance against emergency targets since data collection began, it will barely raise an eyebrow.”
He added: “This performance data, however, is not any reflection on the mammoth efforts of frontline staff to deliver in almost impossible circumstances – something reinforced by those who battled last weekend’s wild weather for their patients.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Years of Tory underfunding, bed cuts and mismanagement have pushed the NHS to the brink.
“Without funded plans for social care, public health and a credible strategy to recruit the staff needed, patients will continue to languish on trolleys or wait longer in pain and distress for treatment.”
Away from emergency care, the estimated total waiting list for treatment, such as knee and hip replacements, was estimated to be 4.6 million people at the end of December 2019.
Around 83.7% of those on the list had been waiting less than 18 weeks, thus not meeting the 92% standard.
Cancer waiting time targets were also missed, with Macmillan Cancer Support calling 2019 “the worst ever year on record” for eight targets.
The charity said the number of people waiting more than two weeks for an appointment with a consultant after an urgent GP referral rose almost 30% from 2018.
And the number of people who waited more than 62 days to start treatment after an urgent GP referral rose 16% from the previous year.
Lynda Thomas, Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive, said: “It’s disappointing that despite the best efforts of front-line staff in the NHS, latest figures expose 2019 as the worst ever year on record, with December marking six years since the 62-day wait to start treatment was first breached.
“As the NHS staffing crisis worsens so do delays, and the impact of this is being felt acutely by people living with cancer.
“We must remember that behind every missed figure is a real person who has a life and a family, a person who faces delays to receiving results, starting treatment or seeing a consultant.”