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Winter A&E waiting time cases quadruple over seven years

23% of patients waited more than four hours in A&E

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 05 April 2018

Numbers of patients in England having to wait for more than four hours in A&E departments to be treated this winter have almost quadrupled over the past seven years, according to a newly published parliamentary briefing on winter pressures for 2017-18.

The House of Commons Library briefing on winter pressures for 2017-18 reveals that 22.9% of patients waited longer than four hours in A&E this winter, compared with just 6% of patients in the same period seven years ago (2010-11).

The briefing summarises data on demand, pressure and performance for the NHS in England this winter, counted as December 2017 to February 2018.

During these months, 3.7 million people attended major hospital A&E departments in England, which was 1.6% higher than the same period last year – an extra 637 attendances per day across the country.

The briefing also confirmed that:

  • emergency admissions were up 6% on last year
  • the number of 12-hour waits for admission hit a new high (1,914 cases)
  • the rates of GP consultations for flu-like illnesses were higher than usual levels
  • general and acute bed occupancy was 94.4% and was over 90% for all but four days this winter
  • on average, 20 hospital trusts had occupancy over 99% each day
  • there were 1,100 fewer beds available each day than last winter on average.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “Doctors working on the frontline have consistently told us that this winter was worse than any they had experienced before, and these figures confirm the extent of the pressures faced by both NHS staff and patients during the toughest months of the year.

“The fact that 23% of patients spent more than four hours in A&E this winter, compared with 6% during the same period just seven years ago, lays bare just how badly investment and resourcing in the NHS have managed to keep up with soaring demand.

“Though the traditional winter period may now be over, we must be clear: this is no longer just a seasonal problem – it has become a year-round crisis. Our own research released earlier this week showed the health service should expect to see scenes this summer similar to those of recent winters.”

Health think tank the Nuffield Trust’s director of research John Appleby said: “This analysis makes plain just how difficult this winter has been for the NHS.

“Hospitals have been operating at alarmingly high occupancy levels, opening an average of five-and-a-half extra hospitals’ worth of beds every day this winter, and some trusts seeing 99 in every 100 beds full.

“Behind these striking figures are thousands of individual stories of patients in pain and distress, and NHS staff members working in stressful and pressured conditions. We know that the NHS has been pulling out all the stops to keep the health service on the straight and narrow this winter. But with staff shortages widespread and funding tight, it has been doing this with the odds stacked against it.”

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