NHS emergency services in England are struggling to cope with a ‘year round crisis’

NHS emergency services in England are struggling to cope with a ‘year round crisis’ that is damaging patient care, leading doctors have warned.

Patients even received worse care last summer than in five of the eight most recent winters, NHS England figures reveal.  

Some 125,215 patients were left stranded for more than four hours on a trolley while waiting for A&E care last summer. This is more than in any winter between 2011 and 2015.

‘Behind these figures lie real stories of misery. We cannot and should not allow this appalling state of affairs to continue,’ Dr Simon Walsh, member of the The British Medical Association, said.

NHS emergency services in England are struggling to cope with a 'year round crisis' that is damaging patient care, leading doctors have warned (stock)

NHS emergency services in England are struggling to cope with a ‘year round crisis’ that is damaging patient care, leading doctors have warned (stock)

Figures released by NHS England show a record 226,176 patients were forced to wait for emergency hospital care last winter.

This is a staggering 200,000 more than in the same time period in 2011, a BMA investigation revealed.

Numbers began to rise in 2016 when 155,277 patients were forced to wait to receive emergency care, which then increased further still to 177,012 in 2017.

And between the winter of 2011 and 2018, the number of patients being seen within the recommended four hours of arriving at A&E decreased from 96.6 per cent to 85 per cent.

Trolley waits of more than four hours also rose from just 29,636 to 226,176 – a seven fold increase.

Emergency admissions increased by 19 per cent from 1,290,056 to 1,529,087.

And it’s not just winter care that has gone downhill.

Just 89.3 per cent of patients were seen within four hours of arriving at A&E last summer compared to 97.3 per cent in 2011.

JUST HOW STRETCHED IS THE NHS?

Waiting times at over-stretched A&E units are at their worst level since records began, according to official figures in April 2018.

Experts said the NHS was in the grip of an ‘eternal winter’ and many hospitals are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented pressure. 

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit it was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.

Chiefs cancelled thousands of operations in a controversial move to ease pressure. And experts have suggested this may be the only option to stop a crisis next year. 

The latest monthly data from NHS England also shows that waiting times for routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements, are at their highest since 2004.  

And violent assaults on staff have risen by 10 per cent in a year – partly driven by frustration with waiting times. 

The number of patients forced to wait on trolleys also rose six fold from 18,095 patients to 125,215.

While emergency admissions increased by 25 per cent from 1,247,113 to 1,558,691.

‘These figures lay bare the long-term underfunding of emergency care services in England that have experienced years of declining budgets and staff shortages at a time when patient demand has rocketed,’ Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said. 

‘It is shocking that the number of patients waiting more than four hours for treatment on trollies has increased seven-fold during the winter months since 2011, with almost 200,000 more patients left in this appalling situation. 

‘Compliance with the four-hour waiting time target has dropped 11 per cent since 2011 and even during the supposedly quieter summer period there have been similar declines.  

‘Most worryingly, the pressure on the NHS has developed into an all year crisis.’ 

Speaking of the figures, Dr Walsh said: ‘Tens of thousands of patients are being left in crowded, cramped corridors, waiting for treatment while others are having to endure longer waits to even see a doctor or nurse.’

He added, however, the recent budget shows the Government is committed to investing in emergency care.

‘But this analysis shows the NHS needs this funding urgently,’ Dr Walsh said.

‘The BMA remains unconvinced that what has been pledged will meet the sheer scale of the problems underlined by our analysis. 

‘It is vital that the Government ensures that frontline healthcare staff are given the resources they need to deliver the standard of care that patients deserve.’

The BMA examined data from NHS England on emergency admissions, trolley waits of more than four hours and the percentage of admissions sorted within four fours.  

The health service came under significant additional pressure last winter due to the ‘perfect storm’ of extreme weather, the worst flu season in a decade and high levels of norovirus. 

Health leaders have been warned the NHS is likely to come under immense strain once again this winter.

HOW MUCH PRESSURE WAS THE NHS UNDER DURING THE ‘HUMANITARIAN CRISIS’ OF 2016?

The NHS endured its worst ever winter crisis, with waiting times, cancelled operations and bed-blocking running at, or near, record levels last year.

Official figures illustrated the scale of the scale of the turmoil to engulf the health service in the face of unprecedented pressures.

Bed-blocking due to a lack of social care places was at a record high with more than 2,500 health patients prevented from leaving hospitals each day – specifically because there is nowhere for them to go.

Statistics from NHS England report also revealed nearly 200,000 patients waited at least four hours in A&E between the winter months of December to February – a five-fold increase from just 41,000 five years previously.

Supporters of the NHS reacted in fury after the Red Cross claimed hospitals were facing a 'humanitarian crisis' after its worst week in 15 years

Supporters of the NHS reacted in fury after the Red Cross claimed hospitals were facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ after its worst week in 15 years

Extreme waiting times also reached record levels, as nearly 2,000 patients were forced to wait at least 12 hours in A&E over the same period.

And cancer referral rates in February were at their second lowest level on record. 

Supporters of the NHS reacted in fury after the Red Cross claimed hospitals were facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ after its worst winter in 15 years.

The charity said it stepped in to help the NHS in England to deal with the increased demand during the winter, but have been hit with criticism accusing them of overstating the issue.

It comes as it emerged that two patients died on trolleys in Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s accident and emergency department in January. 

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