January was the worst month on record for hospital A&E departments, with more patients than ever waiting over four hours to be seen, official figures have revealed.
NHS England statistics showed 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – down from 86.2 per cent in December and below the Government’s target of 95 per cent.
Doctors have warned of worsening conditions in overstretched hospitals, said to be at breaking point due to overwhelming demand and bed shortages.
Nearly 80,000 seriously ill patients spent more than four hours waiting on trolleys to be treated after being admitted to A&E, with an unprecedented 988 patients waiting on trolleys for longer than 12 hours.
The number of 12-hour trolley waits has risen from 550 in December and is up six times since January last year, when 158 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment.
In January 2015, 650 patients waited more than 12 hours to be treated. Some hospitals have said they are now using “corridor nurses” to cope with a severe lack of available beds.
John Appleby, director of research at health charity the Nuffield Trust, said corridors “have become the new emergency wards”.
“These figures make dismal reading for the NHS and patients. The numbers of patients stuck on a trolley waiting for a hospital bed have gone through the roof,” he said.
“These are vulnerable people with acute medical needs.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government was committed to lowering A&E waiting times in NHS hospitals.
He said he expected the NHS would “make very tangible progress” in the next year to meet the target of 95 per cent of patients waiting four hours or less.
Speaking at a conference held by think tank Reform, Mr Hunt said extra funding for the social care system would help ease pressures faced by hospitals by freeing up beds.
The last time the four-hour wait target was met was in July 2015.
Philip Hammond said “we are the party of the NHS” as he announced an extra £2bn for social care in this year’s Budget, promising the funding boost would help ease pressures faced by the health service.
Sidestepping calls from doctors, health bodies and Labour for an urgent cash injection directly into the NHS, the Chancellor said £325m of funding would be given to controversial sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).
STPs have been drawn up in 44 areas of England as a way of reforming services while saving money, but have proved unpopular in some regions because they will lead to the closure of some hospitals, A&E departments and other services.
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
Everyone the Government blames for the NHS crisis – except themselves
1/6 The elderly
“We acknowledge that there are pressures on the health service, there are always extra pressures on the NHS in the winter, but we have the added pressures of the ageing population and the growing complex needs of the population,” Theresa May has said. Waits of over 12 hours in A&E among elderly people have more than doubled in two years, according to figures from NHS Digital.
2/6 Patients going to A&E instead of seeing their GPs
Jeremy Hunt has called for a “honest discussion with the public about the purpose of A&E departments”, saying that around a third of A&E patients were in hospital unnecessarily. Mr Hunt told Radio 4’s Today programme the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A&Es when they should not. He urged patients to visit their GP for non-emergency illnesses, outlined plans to release time for family doctors to support urgent care work, and said the NHS will soon be able to deliver seven-day access to a GP from 8am to 8pm. But doctors struggling amid a GP recruitment crisis said Mr Hunt’s plans were unrealistic and demanded the Government commit to investing in all areas of the overstretched health service.
3/6 Simon Stevens, head of NHS England
Reports that “key members” of Ms May’s team used internal meetings to accuse Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, of being unenthusiastic and unresponsive have been rejected by Downing Street. Mr Stevens had allegedly rejected claims made by Ms May that the NHS had been given more funding than required.
4/6 Previous health policy, not funding
In an interview with Sky News’s Sophy Ridge, Ms May acknowledged the NHS faced pressures but said it was a problem that had been “ducked by government over the years”. She refuted the claim that hospitals were tackling a “humanitarian crisis” and said health funding was at record levels. “We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need,” said the Prime Minister. “They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required… Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.” But doctors accused Ms May of being “in denial” about how the lack of additional funding provided for health and social care were behind a spiralling crisis in NHS hospitals.
5/6 Target to treat all A&E patients within four hours
Mr Hunt was accused of watering down the flagship target to treat all A&E patients within four hours. The Health Secretary told MPs the promise – introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 2000 – should only be for “those who actually need it”. Amid jeers in the Commons, Mr Hunt said only four other countries pledged to treat all patients within a similar timeframe and all had “less stringent” rules. But Ms May has now said the Government will stand by the four-hour target for A&E, which says 95 per cent of patients must be dealt with within that time frame.
6/6 No one
Mr Hunt was accused of “hiding” from the public eye following news of the Red Cross’s comments and didn’t make an official statement for two days. He was also filmed refusing to answer questions from journalists who pursued him down the street yesterday to ask whether he planned to scrap the four-hour A&E waiting time target. Sky News reporter Beth Rigby pressed the Health Secretary on his position on the matter, saying “the public will want to know, Mr Hunt”. “Sorry Beth, I’ve answered questions about this already,” replied Mr Hunt. “But you didn’t answer questions on this. You said it was over-interpreted in the House of Commons and you didn’t want to water it down. Is that what you’re saying?” said Ms Rigby. “It’s very difficult, because how are we going to explain to the public what your intention is, when you change your position and then won’t answer the question, Mr Hunt”. But the Health Secretary maintained his silence until he reached his car and got in.
Mr Hammond also said £100m would be given for triage in A&E departments to combat overcrowding, which the Government has claimed is due to patients attending hospital when they could be seen by a GP.
However campaigners have criticised the spending plans as “nowhere near enough” and accused the government of enabling further NHS privatisation by not giving the money directly to the health service.
Mark Porter, council chair of the British Medical Association, said the Budget “does nothing to address the gaping hole in NHS finances”.
“There is a £30bn gap to fill and we should be increasing the UK’s health spending by at least £10.3bn to match that of other leading European economies,” he said.
There were 1.2 million visits to A&E in January.Reuse content