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Winter pressures see delays in handover of almost 150,000 patients to A&E

Almost 150,000 ambulance patients have had to wait over half an hour before being admitted to A&E this winter, according to the latest figures from NHS England.

This winter’s situation report shows that between 20 November 2017 and 11 February 2018 over 114,000 patients waited between 30 and 60 minutes before being handed over to NHS staff.

Over 35,000 people waited over an hour before their care was transferred.

Bed occupancy has stayed consistently over 94% this winter - well above the recommended safe levels of 85%.

Richard Murray, director of policy for the King’s Fund, said that the data shows that the NHS is under “significant pressure.”

“The proportion of people being seen in four hours in hospital A&E units is now at its lowest level for more than a decade, the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments has reached a new high, and hospital bed occupancy remains well above recommended levels,” he stated.

Murray explained that January saw an “alarmingly sharp rise” in emergency admissions - 6.8% higher than the same time last year - which has given hospitals a “near impossible task” of coping with demand.

He praised the staff’s efforts throughout a difficult winter, but added: “Staff cannot be expected to continue absorbing this pressure indefinitely – a sustainable funding settlement and new workforce strategy are urgently needed.”

Dr. Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, described the working conditions as “unsustainable.”

“The influenza surge may have peaked but is still a highly significant problem and, on top of that, the last seven days has seen the first real continuous period of cold weather since Christmas,” he explained.

He also argued that this has caused a re-escalation of pressures that will not be reflected in figures until the next report.

Calling occupancy figures “misleading,” he continued: “NHS England suggests that overall bed occupancy figures have eased a little but the reality on the front line is very different,” he explained.

“The easing really only reflects that beds in surgical units are empty at midnight when the official data is counted.

“Acute medical wards will still be running at occupancy rates of more than 97%.”

He criticised the introduction of a ‘full capacity boarding’ protocol, where patients are moved from A&E to wards that may or may not have an available bed, saying that it “merely hides suffering and indignity from official gaze,” and called it the “opposite of caring, compassionate and safe care.”

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