Waiting time targets in A&E hit new 14-year low
NHS England said it treated 160,000 more A&E patients within four hours this winter compared with last year.
Waiting time performance in accident and emergency departments has hit its lowest level since it was introduced 14 years ago, the latest NHS England figures show.
Last week, as much of the country was gripped by a big freeze, just 85% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival in A&E.
The previous worst figure was recorded in December – 85.1% – equalling January 2018’s record low and the worst result since the target was introduced in 2004.
NHS England said staff had been faced with working in a “perfect storm” of appalling weather, persistently high hospital admissions due to flu, and a renewed spike in norovirus.
A spokesman added that, despite the challenging conditions, the NHS treated 160,000 more A&E patients within four hours this winter compared with the previous year.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said it was calling on patients to write to their local MP asking for action to address the serious challenges facing A&E departments.
It said the “unprecedented move” was in response to the figures, which also showed the worst ever performance of 76.9% at major emergency departments.
Its president, Dr Taj Hassan, said: “Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has now become normal and things are seemingly only getting worse for patients.
Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has now become normal Dr Taj Hassan
“Let’s be very clear – the current crisis in our emergency departments and in the wider NHS is not the fault of patients. It is not because staff aren’t working hard enough, not because of the actions of individual trusts, not because of the weather or norovirus, not purely because of influenza, immigration or inefficiencies and not because performance targets are unfeasible.
“The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis.
“We need an adequate number of hospital beds, more resources for social care and to fund our staffing strategies that we have previously agreed in order to deliver decent basic dignified care.”
Experts expressed concern that bed occupancy rates were at an average of 95% during February, above the 85% limit considered safe.
The Royal College of Surgeons said at least 62,000 fewer NHS treatments, including surgical operations, were performed by consultants this winter compared to the previous.
In trauma and orthopaedics, there was an 8.4% fall in treatments.
It said the “necessary evil” of postponing all planned surgery in January to relieve pressure on A&E departments resulted in many patients not receiving treatment when they needed it – “extending their time in pain or discomfort”.
Its president, Professor Derek Alderson, said the NHS could learn from businesses.
“The retail sector can predict shop footfall based on small changes in temperature – and it prepares for the increase during the Christmas shopping period well in advance,” he said.
“The same level of sophistication needs to be applied to the NHS and we must start planning for next winter now.”
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing said the figures showed there was “no more to give”.
“Safe staffing levels are key to patient safety, and immediate investment is required to train and retain staff.
“The warning signs are plain to see, and ministers should be under no illusion that failure to act now could be catastrophic.”