Shocking new figures show A&E waiting times have risen to their worst-ever level, as critics say the NHS is on “life support”.
One in five people waited more than four hours in A&E in December – and more than 2,000 spent in excess of 12 hours waiting for a hospital bed.
NHS figures released this morning show England’s A&Es faced their worst month on record when it came to waits and delays to admissions.
Just 79.8% of people visiting England’s A&Es last month waited less than four hours from arrival to admission, discharge or transfer.
The target is 95%, but this has not been met since July 2015, and the latest figures are the worst since records began in November 2010.
The figures for major A&Es were even worse – with nearly a third (31.4%) waiting more than four hours in December.
Labour MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan – who is standing to be the party’s deputy leader, blasted the Tories after the figures were published.
She wrote on Twitter “A&E waiting times are at their worst ever – the NHS is on life support.
“Our most vulnerable are suffering owing to the Tory Government’s repeated inaction.”
Across all A&Es, the number of people waiting more than four hours was 396,762 – an 11% jump in a month.
The number of people facing waits of 12 hours or more to be admitted (so-called trolley waits) doubled from 1,112 in November to 2,347 last month – the highest number on record.
As well as this 98,452 people had to wait more than four hours in A&E from a decision to admit to when they were given a ward bed.
A&Es across England had to temporarily divert patients to other hospitals to relieve pressure on 20 occasions in the week to December 29 and 28 occasions in the week to January 5.
Almost one in five ambulances arriving at A&Es last week (18.1%) had to wait more than 30 minutes to hand over patients.
The target is 15 minutes.
A total of 12,824 ambulances waited between 30 minutes and an hour in the week to January 5, while 5,427 waited more than an hour.
The figures for last week also show bed occupancy levels in hospitals above recommended safe levels.
Across England, 82.4% of adult critical care beds were occupied over the week ending January 5, as were 80.1% of paediatric intensive care beds, and 69.1% of neonatal intensive care beds.
The Royal College of Anaesthetists’ says persistent critical care bed occupancy of more than 70% suggests that a unit is too small, and occupancy of 80% or more is likely to result in non-clinical transfers that carry associated risks.
Health experts advise that occupancy levels for general beds should ideally be under 85%.
Anything over this level is regarded as riskier for patients as this leads to bed shortages, periodic bed crises, and a rise in healthcare-acquired infections such as MRSA.
A study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal found that reducing bed occupancy to 90% or less led to a drop in death rates and an improvement in waiting time performance in A&E.
The average occupancy rate in the week to January 5 was 94.2%.
Hundreds of beds across the country were closed because of norovirus-type symptoms – with a peak of 646 closures on New Year’s Day.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “A&Es across the country are currently very busy – in 2019 we treated over a million more patients in our A&Es than the previous year.
“We have got more hospital beds open than last winter, but flu has come early and is around twice as high as this time last year.
“For the public there is still time to get your flu jab, and remember to use the free NHS 111 phone and online service and your local pharmacist.
“The continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years.”