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‘Rocketing demand’ sees NHS performance figures drop as winter approaches

Last month saw the lowest percentage of NHS patients seen within four hours for any October since records began as the NHS’s latest performance figures do not bode well for the upcoming winter pressures.

New statistics show that the NHS missed its two-week cancer target for the sixth month running, and the number of people waiting longer than the 18-week elective care target has risen by a third in the last 12 months against a backdrop of “stark” increases in admissions and waiting times across England.

The performance figures released by NHS England show that there has been a 3.6% increase in A&E admissions compared to this time last year when “extremely challenging” winter conditions saw the highest figures ever recorded for the number of patients waiting in trolleys for more than four hours in A&E.

The BMA said the figures should “ring alarm bells” for the NHS as winter approaches and “rocketing demand leaves A&E patients facing unacceptably long waits to be seen or admitted.”

According to the statistics, 48,650 more people were forced to wait more than four hours from decision to admit to admission, and 212 had to wait more than 12 hours.

NHS Partners Network’s chief executive David Hare responded to the statistics, saying that the ongoing shortage of elective capacity meant that “patients are having to wait unacceptably long periods for vital procedures,” which causes significant pain and disruption if left untreated.

He said that it is “essential that investment urgently gets to the front line” and that spare capacity in the independent sector is utilised this winter to ensure patients can access the fastest possible care.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), stating staff shortages are “at the heart” of the missed targets, highlighted the fact that 3,000 people have waited more than a year for hospital treatment.

Tom Sandford, the director of RCN, said: “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.”

NHS Providers said that “these figures show that as we head into the most difficult time of the year, trusts are already overstretched.”

It said that staff “have worked incredibly hard” on meeting A&E performance’s four-hour target despite increasing demand, but that although more people in A&E are being admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, the number of patients facing severe delays after a decision to admit them has risen sharply.

Image credit - Darwin Brandis

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