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10.03.17

Dismal NHS performance slammed as ‘corridors become the new emergency wards’

Health organisations have slammed “staggering” NHS performance figures from January, which have revealed rises in patients waiting for emergency treatment as well as steep growth in waiting times for people undergoing elective surgery.

The figures, published by NHS England, reported that in January 80,000 patients waited four hours or more in A&E, and shockingly, almost 1,000 patients had to endure a gruelling 12 hours or more waiting for medical attention.

The proportion of patients seen within four hours also fell to its lowest level since records began in 2010, down to 85.1% – almost 10 percentage points lower than the national standard of 95%. This is a figure that Jeremy Hunt has urged trusts to improve, prompting the BMA and providers to hit back at him by demanding the government to invest fresh money into the NHS.

The figures come shortly after chancellor Phillip Hammond announced £100m A&E triage schemes in his Budget, a policy that was cautiously welcomed by health leaders but criticised by some organisations which argued that the money was better spend shoring up general practice.

According to Nuffield Trust’s chief economist and director of research, John Appleby, the latest performance figures make for “dismal reading” for staff and patients.

“The numbers of patients stuck on a trolley waiting for a hospital bed have gone through the roof, with almost 80,000 patients waiting for four hours or more in January and a staggering 988 of them waiting longer than 12 hours,” he said.

“These are vulnerable people with acute medical needs. “Corridors, it seems, have become the new emergency wards.

The Nuffield Trust director also explained that although provision made for social care in the Budget was indeed welcome, it still should not be seen as cover for not providing new money for NHS trusts.“The problems in social care are well known and cuts to services have been a big driver of these problems,” he continued. “That’s why the extra money announced in yesterday’s Budget is welcome.”

But these funds are not a long-term solution to problems with the NHS, Appleby concluded: “With the NHS experiencing its own pressures and the social care funding gap set to be at least £2bn in the coming year alone, there are no guarantees that patients at A&E can expect let-up any time soon.”

A&E waiting times were not the only problem raised in the performance figures. Hikes in waits to planned surgery – with figures showing that the number of people waiting more than a year for planned surgery had almost doubled over 12 months – have also prompted concern from care providers.

NHS Partners Network, part of NHS Confederation, has now called on the government to make patients more aware of their rights to choose what provider they receive NHS care from, a measure that would ensure patients can have access to care as quickly as possible.

David Hare, its CEO, said: “Independent providers used by the NHS offer services to patients which are paid for at NHS prices, to NHS standards and free at the point-of-use.

“Patients have a legal right to choose which provider they receive NHS care from, so it is vital that the government takes urgent steps to ensure they are given sufficient information to exercise this right and access care as quickly as possible.”

Hare also emphasised the importance that patients waiting for elective surgery are not forgotten.

“The NHS is currently desperately short of elective capacity and it has never been more important for the government to remind patients’ of their right to choose their provider of care to ensure they can access the quickest available treatment,” he added.

The figures showed that at the end of January, almost 3.6 million people were still waiting to receive elective care, compared to 3.2 million in 2016 – a whopping 10% increase.

This follows the revelation that the NHS had failed to meet its target of ensuring that 92% of patients wait no longer than 18 weeks from referral to treatment for elective procedures – an aim that has not been met since February last year.

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