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NHS October performance already as bad as 2015 midwinter

The latest performance statistics released by NHS England have once again revealed a long-term trend of greater volumes of urgent, emergency and elective care this year, warning that the NHS should brace for the winter period.

NHS England’s monthly performance statistics for October 2016 outlined the challenges that the NHS faces this winter, with A&E attendances, emergency admissions, diagnostic tests and consultant-led treatment all marginally up compared to last year.

Some figures are already comparable to the performance in the depths of winter last year, suggesting that this year’s winter could be even more difficult. As predicted by NHS Providers earlier this year, the figures show the NHS is indeed heading towards a so-called “winter of discontent”.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist and director of research professor for the Nuffield Trust which released its annual QualityWatch report today, called the figures “deeply troubling”.

“These figures reveal just how tough things are for the NHS as winter approaches. With one in 14 people in England now on a waiting list, we are getting to the point where no family is immune from the growing pressures facing our health service,” he added.

“NHS staff have worked hard to protect patients from the effects of financial austerity on the health service. But we are now reaching the point at which the pressures on the NHS are so great that the service is vulnerable to serious lapses of care.

“Almost 50,000 people waiting to be admitted to hospital were stuck on trolleys in October - a rise of 54% compared to this time last year – and over one in 10 people waited longer than four hours at A&E. This already matches performance in the depths of winter last year and is deeply troubling.”

The NHS constitution standards were not met for A&E waiting times, with only 89.0% of patients admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours of arrival, considerably below the 95% standard.

“The long-term trend is one of greater volumes of both urgent and emergency care and elective activity, with A&E attendances up 4.5%, emergency admissions up 3.4%, diagnostic tests up 5.1% and consultant-led treatment up 4.3%,” the report said.

“In the case of elective care, the standards were met for seven of the eight cancer standards, but not for referral to consultant-led treatment within 18 weeks, diagnostic tests, or 62-day wait from urgent GP referral to treatment for cancer.”

The figures also showed ambulance services struggling to cope, with services failing to meet time standards for the most serious life-threatening Red 1 emergencies since May 2015, and a 14% year-on-year increase in the number of NHS 111 calls fielded, indicating greater use of the service.

But perhaps most concerning is the 25% increase in the number of ‘delayed days’ – delayed transfers of care of patients – compared to October last year with patients spending a total of 200,008 days waiting to return from hospital to the community – the highest figure on record since data was first collected in August 2010.

(Top image c. Peter Byrne)

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