King’s Fund issues ‘perfect storm’ warning for NHS as A&E delays hit record low

Pressures on NHS trusts are creating “a perfect storm”, the King’s Fund has warned as new figures showed that A&E waiting times have hit a record low.

In January 88.7% of A&E patients were seen within four hours, significantly lower than the 95% target and the lowest performance since the target was set in 2004.

Only 10 out of 138 reporting NHS trusts with a type 1 A&E department achieved the standard, with the highest performing trusts being Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Sheffield Children’s and Airedale, and the worst being Tameside, University Hospital of South Manchester and North Middlesex University Hospital.

John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, said: “Today’s figures underline the scale of the challenge for NHS trusts struggling to meet demand for services within current financial constraints. More than one in 10 patients are waiting longer than four hours in A&E, the worst performance for more than a decade.

“These are symptomatic of the perfect storm through which NHS trusts are trying to steer – with pressures on services across the board. Most trusts are operating with very high bed occupancy which makes it difficult to respond to unexpected fluctuations in admissions. This is compounded by delays in discharging patients, which prevents beds being freed up for new patients. Today’s figures suggest it will be a long winter for the NHS.”

Monitor’s financial figures for the last quarter show the NHS is facing a £2.3bn deficit and consistently missing performance targets.

Chris Hopson, CEO of NHS Providers, told the Commons Health Select Committee this week that it is “unlikely” that the deficit will be eliminated by the end of 2016-17.

However, Richard Baker, the NHS’ interim national director of commissioning, operations and information, said that the figures were “not surprising” due to higher levels of patients, which increased by 10.1% from the same month last year to 1.9 million, and the delayed spell of cold weather over winter.

He said: “It is a credit to all those working in emergency care that we are still admitting, treating and discharging almost nine out of 10 patients within four hours.”

(Image c. Andrew Matthews from PA Archive)


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