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‘Extremely challenging conditions’ as winter pressures highest since records began

The number of patients seen within four hours of A&E attendance has continued to decline, NHS England’s latest winter monitoring figures have revealed.

The latest figures demonstrate just how difficult this winter has been for the NHS, with over 8,000 patients forced to wait on trolleys for over four hours in A&E in January and more than 1,000 waiting for over 12 hours – these are the highest figures since records began.

Commenting on the report, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust, John Appleby, said: “A year ago we warned that corridors had become the new emergency wards.

“It is deeply concerning that 12 months on the position has worsened, with many harrowing reports of patients being treated in busy corridors by stressed and overworked staff.”

Many patients also faced long delays as they were handed over from ambulance to A&E, with almost 30,000 people waiting over an hour since the beginning of this winter.

With an increase in A&E attendances of over 100,000 more than last January, bed occupancy remains repeatedly above 95% - well above the recommended safe levels of 85%.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and strategy and deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “These figures show there has been absolutely no let-up in the pressures on the NHS.

“As always the biggest priority for NHS trusts and staff is ensuring patient safety. They are working flat out, often in extremely challenging conditions.”

However, fewer patients have faced delays in being transferred out of hospital once they are medically fit, which Cordery explained is a major priority for trusts and local councils this winter.

She added: “More generally, these figures are another clear sign of a system that is overstretched.

“We know the worst of winter may be yet to come. Continuing cold weather will inevitably add extra strain to services which are already struggling to cope.

“All of this points to the need for a long-term funding settlement for the NHS and social care to be reached – one that enables local care services to deliver the standards that patients deserve.”

Patients waits for planned care are also at their longest for nine years, with 88% of patients waiting starting planned treatment within 18 weeks in December 2017 - well below the 92% target.

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Surgeons said: “Surgeons and other frontline NHS staff are working tirelessly to provide the best care possible to patients.

“But today’s figures show that these short-term measures to create extra capacity in the NHS are insufficient to meet NHS performance targets. 

“We currently do not have adequate funding or capacity in our health or social care services and we need to urgently find a long-term solution.”

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