‘Stark’ increases in A&E admissions and waiting times
Last month saw “stark” increases in attendances, admissions and waiting times in accident and emergency departments in England, figures show.
Performance statistics released by NHS England show there were 2.06 million attendances at A&Es in October – 0.9% more than October last year – with 89.1% of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within the target of four hours.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the figures should “ring alarm bells” for the NHS and the Government as winter approaches and “rocketing demand leaves A&E patients facing unacceptably long waits to be seen or admitted”.
Rob Harwood, chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee, said: “Last month, emergency admissions hit a record high while the number of patients waiting more than four hours to be seen was almost 10% higher than last year.
“These statistics represent what happened in hospitals during a relatively mild autumn before the added pressure associated with much colder weather hits.
“This is further evidence of what the BMA has been saying for some time – we are no longer experiencing just a winter crisis in the NHS, it is now a truly year-round crisis.
“These figures should ring alarm bells for the NHS and Government as we approach winter, as rocketing demand leaves A&E patients facing unacceptably long waits to be seen or admitted.”
There were 542,435 emergency admissions last month – 5.7% more than in the same period last year.
Meanwhile 48,650 patients were forced to wait more than four hours from decision to admit to admission, with 212 waiting more than 12 hours.
Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said October had the joint lowest percentage of patients seen within four hours in A&E for any October since records began.
He said: “Today’s figures reveal an NHS under continued, intense pressure with dismal consequences for patients.
“We are heading into winter on the back of the worst October on record for A&E and 12-hour waits for hospital admission from the summer onwards being around twice as high as 2017.
“What’s more, with over 550,000 patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment, often in pain and distress, ministers cannot continue ducking their responsibilities towards bringing constitutional waiting time standards back under control.
“There wasn’t a penny extra for hospitals this winter in the Budget, yet ministers are quickly ratcheting up uncosted promises from the NHS budget over the next five years.
“Patients waiting longer and longer in pain for treatment want action now and will expect the Secretary of State to outline a plan to reduce waiting lists and ensure the four-hour target is met.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) highlighted figures which show 3,156 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for hospital treatment by September, an increase of 77.5% from 1,778 in the same month last year.
Tom Sandford, director of RCN England, said: “Today’s figures show that more than 3,000 people have waited more than a year for hospital treatment, too often in pain and discomfort.
“No one should be waiting this long, yet the number of patients on the waiting list has grown 78% in a year. Everywhere you look you see our healthcare system buckling under the strain.
“Just last week, a leading cancer centre in Essex announced it may have to close as it cannot recruit enough specialist nurses.
“More patients are waiting over two months to start urgent cancer treatment than any time in the last three years – this is a further blow to patients and families enduring one of the most stressful times imaginable.
“Staff shortages are at the heart of these missed targets and miserable trolley waits, and without urgent action we could see more vital services forced to close.”
He said the figures were the consequence of 42,000 nurse vacancies in England, projected by the RCN to rise as high as 48,000 in the next five years.
“As the 10-year plan for the NHS is drawn up, we are calling for £1 billion to fund nursing education to attract and support the nurses we need to keep patients safe,” he added.
"It is a testament to the hard work of staff that 4hr performance is up slightly on last month in spite of a record number of emergency admissions & it is clear that we can ill afford to lose any more beds" @DrAdrianBoyle on October's performance figures: https://t.co/iVq2pJozo7
— RCEM (@RCollEM) November 8, 2018
Dr Adrian Boyle, of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said it was a “testament to the hard work of staff” that the four-hour performance was up slightly on last month’s 88.9%, in spite of a record number of emergency admissions.
He added: “The number of emergency admissions and trolley waits should make it clear that we can ill afford to lose any more beds as we have over previous winters.
“We are at a point where nearly a third of attendances require admission, and focus must be on how we treat these patients rather than attempting to re-direct minors.
“Provision of staffed beds and better co-ordination of the bed base must be the absolute priority this winter and must be a key part of the 10-year plan.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said: “The NHS continues to look after an increasing number of people who need our care.
“Going into winter it’s important that local authorities and hospitals work together to deploy the targeted extra funding for social care to help people get home as soon as possible.”