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19.01.17

Hunt accused of ‘playing fast and loose with lives’ as figures lay bare A&E pressures

New figures from NHS Digital have laid bare the extent of pressure on A&E departments, as 85,000 patients spent an average of seven hours in A&E departments last autumn.

NHS Digital’s A&E quality indicators for October 2016 revealed that at least one patient faced a 24-hour wait for treatment, with patients who were eventually admitted to hospital waiting an average of three hours and 55 minutes.

The above figure is barely under English hospitals’ target to examine and either admit, transfer or discharge 95% of A&E patients within four hours, which the health secretary Jeremy Hunt recently suggested downgrading to apply only in urgent cases.

The figures highlighted the growing number of people using NHS hospitals, with 1,710,807 patients attending A&E last October, a 3.8% increase compared to 2015 and a 19% rise since 2011.

The general union GMB, which includes members in the NHS and ambulance services, said that the figures were “yet another” example of Hunt playing “fast and loose with people’s lives” as the NHS continues to be reportedly underfunded by the government.

Rehana Azam, national secretary for GMB, said: “These outrageous figures show Jeremy Hunt is playing dangerous games with people’s lives.

“No matter how he tries to move the goal posts – it is clear that for more serious cases a four-hour wait in A&E is now the norm, and the idea of a patient waiting a day to be treated is nothing short of disgusting.

“No matter how the health secretary fudges these figures, he can’t hide from the stark truth – that he is not up to the job, and underfunding and privatising the NHS cannot and will not work.”

While patients waiting almost a day to be admitted remain rare, NHS Digital’s figures show that the extremes have grown. In the worst 5% of cases, the delay in A&E patients being admitted to hospital has jumped by 75% since 2011 in a stark demonstration of growing operational pressures.

Overcrowding this winter meant that University Hospitals of Leicester NHS FT admitted to being forced to leave patients waiting in ambulances before they could be seen in A&E. Around 20 trusts declared that their ability to provide care to patients had been compromised by overcrowding.

Overall, patients spent 4.2% longer in English A&E departments in October last year compared to October 2015 and 15.6% longer than five years before.

An NHS England spokesman accepted that unprecedented numbers of patients are accessing NHS services in England, but remained optimistic.

“Staff are dealing with the highest ever number of ambulance calls, A&E attendances and emergency admissions in its history,” the spokesman said. “Despite this, the NHS is delivering a good service for the vast majority of patients.”

The travails that the NHS has faced this winter has led numerous experts across the health service to urge the government to provide extra health and social care funding, with NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens arguing that it would be “stretching it” to say that the NHS had received more funding that it had asked for.

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