- -Casualty departments closed doors to ambulances 100 times last month
- -Around 27,000 patients were stuck in ambulances for at least half an hour
- -Last week more than 35,000 had to wait more than four hours in A&E
Casualty departments were forced to close their doors to ambulances nearly 100 times last month as they failed to cope with soaring patient numbers, alarming figures show.
In total, around 27,000 patients were stuck inside the backs of ambulances outside A&E units for at least half an hour because staff were too busy to take them in – a third more than this time last year.
In the worst cases they were turned away altogether.
In total, around 27,000 patients were stuck inside the backs of ambulances outside A&E units for at least half an hour because staff were too busy to take them in – a third more than this time last year
And last week, more than 35,000 patients were forced to wait more than four hours in A&E – the worst figure on record – separate statistics reveal.
Experts warned that the ‘bleak’ figures were indicative of a ‘crisis’ in the NHS and showed the system was ‘cracking under extreme pressure.’
And they say the situation could worsen over the next month.
NHS chiefs finally released the data indicating how hospitals are coping with the pressures of winter five weeks later than planned yesterday. They show the situation is far worse compared with this time last year. Waiting times data is normally released on a weekly basis from the start of November.
But NHS England said that it was being held back while they ‘reviewed’ the information – prompting concerns they were trying to delay bad news.
The 95 occasions that overstretched casualty units had to divert ambulances to other hospitals is almost double the 48 in the same period last year.
A total of 6,968 operations had to be cancelled – 367 which were urgent – and 33 patients waited on trolleys in corridors for more than 12 hours.
Several hospital trusts are now on ‘black alert’ – whereby GPs are urged not to send in patients – and senior NHS managers in some areas of the country have admitted the situation is the worst in living memory.
Last week, more than 35,000 patients were forced to wait more than four hours in A&E – the worst figure on record
The figures show A&E units are already under considerable pressure even though winter is barely under way. The crisis is partly due to bed-blocking, where elderly patients stay in hospital despite being fit for discharge because of a lack of care for them at home.
In addition, record numbers of patients are visiting A&E because they are unable to get an appointment with their GP.
Separate weekly data shows that 35,373 patients waited more than four hours in A&E – the Government’s target – a record number since data was first published in November 2010.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association’s council which represents senior doctors, said: ‘These figures point to a system cracking under extreme pressure, leading to unacceptable delays in care.
‘While the NHS is used to seeing a spike in demand during winter months, this year it’s experienced a spring, summer and autumn crisis as well, leaving no spare capacity in hospitals as we hit winter.’ Last month the Government announced that A&E units would get an extra £700million to avert a winter crisis, a sum that senior doctors described as little more than a ‘sticking plaster’.
Dame Barbara Hakin, NHS England’s National Director of Commissioning Operations blamed the crisis on soaring numbers arriving in A&E and having to be admitted on to hospital wards. There were 436,229 attendances last week – up nearly 30,000 on the average typically seen for this time of year.
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘Last year’s winter pressures on hospitals and A&E never went away – our health service is now running at capacity all year round, and a bad winter could spell disaster.
‘Staff are working incredibly hard to care for record numbers of patients, but the system is failing both staff and patients.’
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the figures should be a ‘wake-up call’.