Government admits NHS casualty wards struggle with delays

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The Government admitted yesterday that there were still problems in hospital accident and emergency departments but claimed that new figures showed the National Health Service was getting better.

The "performance indicators" published by the Department of Health revealed that during the past year 13.1 per cent of patients admitted through casualty were not placed in a bed on a ward within four hours of a decision to admit them. But it says that no comparison is possible with previous years because no figures are available.

The delays are an "indicator of emergency access to hospital beds and a proxy measure of the patient's experience", the report says. "The intention is to reduce the number of long trolley waits and ensure that patients are seen, treated and admitted or discharged rapidly and appropriately."

The problems in casualty departments provoked a political storm last week after the family of 94-year-old Rose Addis complained about her treatment at the Whittington Hospital in north London.

The affair also cast the spotlight on the NHS complaints procedure, and the report reveals that the percentage of written complaints resolved at the local hospital within four weeks dropped by 8 per cent in the past year. The total number of complaints rose by 8,000.

For the first time, the Government has been able to make a year-on-year comparison of 64 measures of NHS performance out of 79 indicators. The missing figures include waiting times in casualty.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, said: "These figures show that while there are many problems facing the NHS, progress is underway. There are welcome improvements in particular on cancer survival rates and a welcome decline in the number of deaths following surgery. Both health outcomes and standards of care are moving in the right direction – but there is, of course, still a long way to go."

The report also noted that teenage birth rates in Britain – the highest in Western Europe – fell slightly, with 1,800 fewer conceptions. Infant mortality rates have also improved, with about 300 fewer deaths.