Accident and emergency patients in England experienced the worst month of delays this winter in the 13 years since the four-hour target was introduced, a leaked document suggests. The figures, compiled by regulator NHS Improvement, also reportedly suggest a record high for people waiting more than 12 hours for a bed after being seen in A&E.
The target, introduced in 2004, states that 95% of patients must be seen and either admitted or discharged in under four hours. But the document suggests that of 1.4 million visits in January, only 82% were dealt with within the time frame - while more than 60,000 people waited for up to 12 hours for a bed after being told they must be admitted.
UKIP’s NHS Champion Suzanne Evans said, "Too many people attending A&E, combined with a shortage of emergency medicine consultants, difficulty in getting GPs appointments and chronic underfunding, was bound to lead to precisely this kind of crisis. The government's 95% target for patients visiting A&E to be seen within four hours has been looking hopelessly unrealistic for some time.
"Simply telling people not to go to A&E is not the answer. Getting an urgent GP appointment - let alone an out-of-hours GP appointment - is becoming increasingly difficult, and it's not always easy for patients to know what is or isn't a genuine emergency. Parents of young children (who make up a considerable portion of A&E attendances) especially don't want to take risks with their children's health.
"No doubt many politicians will come up with easy soundbites in response to this crisis, but the truth is there are no easy answers and no quick fixes. The NHS has suffered for decades from poor policy making by both this and previous governments, as well as massive under-investment and a 'targets and terror' regime, all of which has heaped pressure upon pressure and sent staff scuttling for the door.
"The NHS needs significantly more money, more frontline staff, more hospital beds, a fully joined up health and social care service, and much better management with a clear and relentless focus on frontline priorities.
"None of this is going to happen overnight, however I am confident that our forthcoming exit from the EU provides an opportunity to help the NHS recover in many ways, not least by diverting a considerable portion of the money we will save from leaving into the NHS. I hope it will also spur investment into planning for the long term and training up more of our own medical staff, instead of the short term fix of simply plundering them from overseas; and herald the introduction of a health insurance requirement for visitors to the UK which will also help relieve the pressure."