The NHS in England is set to miss its A&E waiting times target over an entire year for the first time.
Average performance for the year 2014/15 is now guaranteed to fall short of the goal of treating 95 per cent of patients at A&E within four hours.
The milestone is the latest sign of long-term decline in NHS performance against a number of key targets – a consequence of rapidly increasing demand from patients, against a background of straitened NHS funding.
In figures released yesterday, NHS England confirmed that 190,000 more people attended A&Es this winter compared to last, with 51,000 more admitted into hospital as an emergency case.
Attendances spiked in December, but the pressure on hospitals was greatest in early January when several declared major incidents. All hospitals experienced problems finding beds for new emergency patients, as capacity problems in the social care sector meant thousands of elderly patients who were otherwise well could not be discharged from hospital.
Despite the failure to meet targets, Dr Sarah Pinto-Duschinsky, NHS England’s director of operations and delivery, paid tribute to A&E and other NHS staff for the way they had coped with the “incredible” increase in demand.
“These record numbers, up by between six per cent and nine per cent some weeks, mean that although the NHS won’t have met the A&E average 95 per cent target for the full year, staff continued even during this busiest winter ever to treat more than nine in 10 people within four hours. And most patients were, in fact, treat in under an hour,” she said.
“This is not only the best performance in the UK but probably of any major country internationally,” she added.
Scotland has an A&E waiting times target of 98 per cent of patients seen in four hours, while Wales and Northern Ireland work to the 95 per cent target. All three countries have performed worse than England so far this winter, according to their latest available figures.
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