‘Close to record low’ for NHS waiting times, latest performance figures reveal

Author: Caroline White

NHS waiting times have come close to record lows, the latest set of monthly NHS performance figures* for January indicate, and this is despite the absence of really cold weather or a flu epidemic, healthcare leaders have pointed out.

There were 100,578 four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission in January, which compares to 83,554 in the same month last year ─ the highest level since records began. Of these, 2846 were delayed more than 12 hours which compares to 627 in the same month last year.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: ‘[The] figures show NHS performance on the main waiting time targets is close to record lows. Despite the lack of a cold snap and flu being less severe than feared so far, this was the worst January for people waiting longer than four hours in A&E since records began. Performance against the 18-week target for non-urgent operations hit an all-time low.” 

Plans for investing in the workforce and infrastructure remained short-term, he said, adding that announcement new hospitals wouldn’t solve the full scale of the NHS’s crumbling infrastructure.

“Unless widespread staff shortages are tackled, patient care will continue to suffer. Meanwhile, action on supporting the public health and social care services that help keep people healthy and independent is long overdue.” 

British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “This latest set of performance figures confirm what doctors have been telling us and indeed the reality experienced by patients daily; that the strain on our health service is relentless, deepening and showing no sign of recovery.   

“With nearly 200,000 people waiting over four hours on a trolley so far this winter – 56,000 more than the same time last year - and almost six times more people waiting over 12 hours on trolleys this winter compared to last, the government is simply failing to get a grip on winter pressures.”

He added: “With the budget coming up next month, the government must fulfil its responsibility and obligation to end the shameful suffering experienced by patients due to this serious lack of capacity. The BMA is calling for an increase in total health funding by 4.1% annually as current spending commitments fall short of what is needed if we are to avert another winter crisis.”

Nick Ville, director of membership and policy at the NHS Confederation, said that the latest figures showed some improvement on the previous month for ambulance targets.

“But we are far from out of the woods. Numbers of patients waiting more than four hours and more than 12 hours in A&E were both up considerably – evidence of a service under immense strain, as demand continues to rise inexorably,” he suggested.

“We cannot stress enough how imperative it is that support for social care, primary care and community services is strengthened in order to spread the load. The NHS is vital to the health of our communities and we must make sure it is fortified for the future.”

Tom Gardiner, junior doctor and member of campaign group, Keep Our NHS Public, added: “Sadly these latest performance figures come as no surprise to anyone who works on the NHS frontline. Whether it’s the trollies lined up in A&E, patients waiting longer and longer for an operation, or elderly people unable to get the care they need, our health service is falling apart at the seams.

“Crisis has become the new normal for our health service but don’t be mistaken, the last two months have been some of the worst in the history of the NHS.”

*Monthly Trust Situation Reports. NHS Digital, 2020.