Number of A&E patients seen within four-hour target hits record low

Increasing numbers of patients are waiting more than four hours to be seen at A&E departments, which also saw a record number of attendances and ambulance callouts in December.

Data from NHS England shows 79.8% of A&E patients were seen within four hours in November – the worst figure on record and set against a target of 95%.

(PA Graphics)

The monthly performance statistics show there were 2,181,024 attendances last month – a 6.5% rise from December 2018.

This resulted in 4,307 extra attendances per day – the highest number on record.

More than a fifth of people who attended emergency departments had to wait more than four hours to be seen, while almost 100,000 people had to wait more than four hours for a bed after a decision was made to admit them.

Some 98,452 patients waited more than four hours to be admitted – 64.6% higher than December 2018.

Of these, 2,347 waited more than 12 hours – another record high and a 726.4% increase from the previous year.

Health bodies warned that the figures were particularly concerning because a cold spell would cause further problems and “bring the system to its knees”.

Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “The NHS is struggling to escape its spiral of decline. With a record low in terms of four-hour performance and highest ever number of 12-hour waits, this will have been a miserable Christmas period for many patients and staff alike.”

Nuffield Trust chief economist Professor John Appleby said: “These would be dire performance figures for any December but what’s worrying is that we are still awaiting the truly cold winter weather that we know will plunge the NHS into further problems.

“Once a rare and almost unthinkable event, in December over 2,000 people waited more than 12 hours on a trolley to be admitted to a bed on a hospital ward.

“Last month also saw over 98,000 people waiting more than four hours on a trolley.

“We warned this could top 100,000 as winter goes on and at this rate it could get even worse.

“Missed targets are now the norm with more than one in five people attending A&E waiting longer than four hours to be admitted to hospital, transferred or discharged home.”

The NHS figures also show that ambulances attended 790,294 incidents in December – the busiest month on record and a 5.3% increase from the same month the previous year.

About 10,000 callouts were to the most serious, life-threatening cases – again the highest number recorded in a month and a rise of 16.6% from the previous year.

Overall in 2019, there were 1.2 million more attendances at A&Es than in 2018 – a 4.8% rise.

This is an increase of 14.2% in three years, according to NHS England.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “A&Es across the country are currently very busy – in 2019 we treated over a million more patients in our A&Es than the previous year.

“We have got more hospital beds open than last winter, but flu has come early and is around twice as high as this time last year.

Flu jab
NHS chiefs urged people to get their flu jabs, warning the virus has struck early this winter (PA)

“For the public there is still time to get your flu jab, and remember to use the free NHS 111 phone and online service and your local pharmacist.

“The continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years.”

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