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15.02.19

A&E waiting time performance hits all time low as NHS ‘buckles under the strain’

A&E waiting time performances in NHS trusts in England have hit their lowest level since regards began, according to the latest NHS statistics.

The NHS’s performance against the flagship four-hour target has hit its lowest level since it was introduced in 2004, with 84.4% of patients treated within the timescale compared to the 95% target.

NHS leaders have said the new figures show the NHS is “buckling under strain,” and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the situation is dangerous and must act as a wake-up call for the health secretary and NHS England.

Whilst more patients than ever are being seen at A&E departments, this month’s waiting time figures are worse than the previous low of 84.6% set in March last year after the ‘Beast from the East’ storm caused havoc on frontline services.

This equates to around 330,000 patients waiting longer than they should, and 84,000 patients in January waited over four hours for a bed – with 600 waiting over 12 hours.

Patricia Marquis, director of the RCN, said: “No nurse ever wants to leave patients on trolleys in corridors or waiting for hours in an armchair when there’s no bed. And it’s not just about beds, we also need the nurses to safely staff them.

“Speak to anybody at the coalface and they will tell you that it’s patients who are paying the price for the lack of staff and overcrowding at A&Es.”

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, added: “It’s a sad indictment of the state that our health service has been allowed to fall into that thousands of patients needing urgent medical help face the awful prospect of being left stranded in cramped corridors or on hospital trollies waiting for a hospital bed to become available.”

The NHS last met the four-hour A&E target in 2015. It has been three years since the health service met its target for patients urgently referred with cancer to begin treatment within two months, and NHS England is currently reviewing its clinical targets including those for A&E waiting times.

NHS Confederation’s director of policy Nick Ville said the NHS is “buckling under the strain” of ever-increasing numbers of patients and, despite the best efforts of staff, the figures show the NHS has reached “significant lows.”

“We need to find a more sustainable way of providing care to an increasingly aging population with ever-more complex needs,” Ville noted.

John Appleby, Nuffield Trust’s chief economist professor, said: “Today’s figures remind us that the NHS is fighting a losing battle in trying to meet its commitments to provide timely health care in the face of the pressure it is under.”

Image credit - mattjeacock

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