Accident and Emergency departments are growing busier and waits for treatment longer in a sign of the growing pressure on the NHS, a watchdog warned yesterday.

The Care Quality Commission, which regulates the NHS, said one third of patients waited for more than four hours in A&E before being admitted or discharged this year, up from 27 per cent in 2008.

The rise is driven by the growing number of frail elderly admitted in an emergency, whose condition has not been adequately controlled at home. In addition, some NHS walk-in centres have closed, some patients find it hard to get out of hours GP care, and A&E departments are understaffed because of difficulties attracting staff to work in this specialty .

According to the Government's target, 95 per cent of patients attending A&E should be admitted or discharged within four hours.

The CQC survey, conducted among 46,000 patients between January and March this year, found a third waited more than half an hour before they were seen by a doctor or nurse.

David Behan, chief executive of the CQC said: "The important issue is that people who need to be treated urgently, do not have to wait."

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