January was the worst month on record for hospital A&E departments, with more patients than ever waiting over four hours to be seen, official figures have revealed.
NHS England statistics showed 85.1% of patients were seen within four hours – down from 86.2% in December and well below the Government’s target of 95%.
However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told NHS hospitals they must get back to meeting the target for seeing patients swiftly in A&E. In a speech last week, Hunt said it was “critical for patient safety”.
The target of seeing 95% of patients in four hours has been missed in England since July 2015.
Hunt demanded progress this year and said the target should be hit next year after new funding in the Budget.
In the recent Budget, a capital investment of £100m was outlined specifically for accident and emergency departments.
The money will be used to develop an urgent treatment centre in every A&E in England.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond said the money “will enable trusts to invest in measures to help manage demand on A&E services”, and he gave the example of “onsite GP facilities”.
The Budget also included a commitment to inject £2bn into adult social care spending over the next three years.
Hunt said the new money would help tackle the problem of patients who were fit to leave hospital having their discharge delayed because of a lack of suitable care in the community.
Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “It’s very easy to call for A&E to get back on track by next year, but the government needs to explain just how this will happen considering that yesterday’s budget didn’t come close to addressing the black hole in NHS finances.
“It would be naïve to think that the crisis in the NHS stops solely at the hospital door when, in fact, our A&E departments are struggling because of an overstretched system. The NHS isn’t at breaking point because of front-line financial mismanagement, or individual chief executives’ poor decision making, but because of the conscious, and constant, underinvestment in our health service.
“To really help doctors deliver the best care for patients, the government needs to look at the long-term funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole if we are to get to grips with the pressures the NHS faces year in, year out, but which are compounded during the winter months.”
The latest figures reveal nearly 80,000 seriously ill patients spent more than four hours waiting on trolleys to be treated after being admitted to A&E, with an unprecedented 988 patients waiting on trolleys for longer than 12 hours.
The number of 12-hour trolley waits has risen from 550 in December and is up six times since January last year, when 158 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment.
President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Taj Hassan warned that there is still a lack of acute care beds, and inadequate numbers of experienced clinicians to treat the sick patients requiring admission. Only by a”addressing these issues” with the government “help to fix the current crisis”, he said.
He added: “We estimate that the NHS in England is short of approximately 2200 emergency medicine consultants, and if we are to reach safe levels of bed occupancy we will need to increase the number of beds available by around 10% – something STPs, based on current evidence, will do the opposite of.”