Rise recorded in A&E waiting times

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The number of people waiting more than four hours in A&E has almost doubled, despite a drop in attendances, figures show.

Data from the Department of Health revealed 165,279 people in England waited longer than four hours in A&E and minor injury units from April to June this year.

The figure is almost twice the number waiting more than four hours in the same period in 2010 (86,626).

During that period, there were 5.53 million attendances at A&E, dropping to 5.49 million for the same timeframe in 2011.

Overall, 98.43% of people were seen in A&E within four hours in the three-month period in 2010, dropping to 96.99% for the same quarter in 2011.

Last year, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley reduced the target for the proportion of A&E patients to be seen within four hours from 98% to 95%.

There is now no official target but quality indicators say hospitals should aim to see 95% of patients within four hours.

The move to scrap the target was welcomed by some medical organisations, who saw it as a blunt instrument. Others said scrapping it would inevitably lead to longer waits for patients.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "These figures show that the vast majority of patients - 97% - are still being seen at A&E within four hours.

"We replaced the old four-hour A&E target because doctors said it was not in patients' best interest.

"For the first time, we are measuring the overall quality of care in A&E, as well as the time spent in A&E, which allows doctors to decide what is best for their patients.

"Today's figures confirm that, through this change, waiting times remain low and stable."

Figures released on Monday showed the number of people waiting more than six weeks for key NHS tests has almost quadrupled in one year.

In June, there were 12,521 people waiting more than six weeks for one of 15 key tests, including MRI, CT and heart scans, ultrasound, barium enemas and colonoscopies.

It is up on the 3,510 waiting more than six weeks in June 2010.

There has also been a nine-fold increase in the number of people waiting more than 13 weeks for one of the tests.

In June, there were 1,763 people waiting more than 13 weeks, up from just 190 in June 2010.

Overall, the number of diagnostic tests carried out between April 2010 and March 2011 has risen 2.8% on the previous year, from 37.7 million to 38.8 million.

Data on how A&E departments are performing against eight new clinical standards introduced by Mr Lansley will be published later this month.