Delays at A&E departments point to difficult winter

Nick Scriven, a Halifax hospital consultant and president of the Society for Acute Medicine
Nick Scriven, a Halifax hospital consultant and president of the Society for Acute Medicine

Warnings have been made that hospitals are on course for another difficult winter after latest figures showed thousands of patients facing delays in A&E.

NHS trusts around the country struggled with waiting times, despite measures to avert a crisis which gripped the system last winter, acknowledged as the worst on record.

More than 250 people waited 12 hours or more for a bed last month after going to emergency departments for treatment, NHS England figures show, and more than 54,000 had to wait longer than four hours.

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Just 87.6 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the target time of four hours in England.

In Yorkshire just one major NHS trust, Barnsley, met its target for 95 per cent of A&E patients to be seen within the target time, the figures show.

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Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “Despite the extensive preparations by trusts, today’s figures make it very clear that the NHS is on course for a very difficult winter.”

Figures for the first week of December also show that almost 95 per cent of hospital beds in England were occupied, higher than the 85 per cent recommended safe level.

Nick Scriven, a Halifax hospital consultant and president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Bed occupancy rates are bad as this time last year with many of our hospitals quoting rates of 95 per cent full. This is despite more than 2,000 extra beds being opened nationally this last week.

“This is clearly worrying going into winter as we are in no better place than this time last year.”

NHS England said more patients were being treated and discharged on the same day, freeing up more than 700 beds to help cope with demand. A spokesman said: “NHS staff continue to work hard to deal with increased demand across the board, seeing 1,000 more people within four hours in A&E every day in November compared to last year.”

The cold weather saw a return of the winter vomiting bug norovirus at some hospitals.

NHS England figures show that up to 554 beds were closed around the country because of the virus in the first week of December.

Among the worst affected NHS trusts was Hull and East Yorkshire, which had 60 beds closed on December 4 and 5.

The trust has urged people not to visit hospital if they are feeling unwell to help limit the spread of the illness.