Delay transfers at record high as NHS braces for tough winter

Delayed transfers of care in the NHS were at a record high in September this year, renewing fears about its ability to cope this winter.

The increase in delayed transfers has been attributed to the crisis in social care provision, which makes it harder to ensure follow-up care for elderly and vulnerable patients, leaving them occupying hospital beds.

NHS England’s monthly performance figures for September 2016, published today, show that there were 196,246 delayed days in the month, compared to 147,738 last year. This is the highest number since records began in August 2010.

At the snapshot time of midnight on the last Thursday of the month, there were 6,777 delayed patients, again the highest since records began.

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “As we enter an unpredictable winter, these stats are extremely worrying and the worst we’ve seen since records began in 2010. They reflect the enormous strain the NHS and the wider health and care system is under.

"With less than two weeks to go until the Autumn Statement, the government has an opportunity on the 23 November to help relieve some of the pressure, by dealing with the current social care funding crisis. It is only by protecting social care that we can truly protect the NHS.”

In its recent report into winter pressures, the Health Select Committee warned that NHS trusts are anticipating a “substantially more difficult” winter this year and called for additional social care funding to cope with the pressures.

The figures show the NHS struggling on almost all fronts. In A&Es, 90.6% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, below the target of 95% and last month’s figure of 91%.

The standard for Red 1 and Red 2 ambulance calls is to answer 75% within eight minutes. However, 68.3% of Red 1 calls were answered within this time, meaning the standard has been missed for 16 months in a row, and 62% of Red 2 calls were answered, meaning the standard has not been met since January 2014.

For Category A calls, 90.6% were answered within four hours, with the 95% target missed for 16 months.

Professor John Appleby, director of research at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Today’s figures also show us that, yet again, all of the major waiting times targets have been missed, with people waiting longer for A&E, routine surgery and cancer treatment. This reveals an NHS under enormous pressure as we look to the coming winter months.”

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, added that the figures published today make for grim reading and, with winter approaching, there are likely to be even tougher times ahead.

He warned that the planned increases to the NHS budget to 2019-20 are not enough to maintain standards of care, and called on the government to “review the NHS settlement or be open with the public about how access to services and quality of care will be affected”.

Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s national director for operations and information, said: “This month’s figures continue the pattern of ongoing increases in the care being provided by the NHS, with little respite over the summer.” However, he added that services were still being delivered “at a high level”.

(Image c. Andrew Matthews from PA Wire)

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