HOSPITALS have failed to hit the accident and emergency target for the second week running as winter pressures set in, latest figures have revealed.
Data from NHS England shows 94.8 per cent of people were treated within four hours of arriving at A&E against a 95 per cent target. The total is the same as last week and suggests winter pressures on the health service are starting to take hold. The target is often missed by hospitals in winter due to factors such as more viruses circulating and higher admissions among older people.
Waiting times are the longest in major A&E departments, where only 92.2 per cent were seen within four hours. Two thirds of the 144 trusts with major units are missing the target, while major units have been below the 95 per cent target since July.
The data also shows the number of delays in ambulances being able to hand over patients to A&E stands at 4,913. These are delays of more than 30 minutes and come after Dame Barbara Hakin, chief operating officer of NHS England, admitted to MPs earlier this week the NHS has a “significant problem” with ambulances queuing at A&E units.
Figures also show there were 1,202 hospital beds closed to norovirus, far lower than the 3,081 in the same week last year when the virus took an early seasonal hold. According to Public Health England, the number of cases is a third lower than the average for the same period in the seasons between 2007-8 and 2011-12.
Dame Barbara said: “Frontline teams across the NHS have again shown how their hard work keeps waiting times down for patients. Despite the very significant pressure, the NHS continues to deliver a good service with 94.8 per cent of those attending A&E treated, admitted or discharged within four hours – nearly a percentage point better than the figures this time last year.
“We must not be complacent but I’m pleased and proud of how staff are responding.”
She added: “Although emergency admissions remain very high, they have dropped slightly this week rather than continuing to rise, which is encouraging. The number of cancelled operations remains stable, and as expected. Ambulance handover delays are down by 30 per cent compared to the same week last year when the weather was worse.
“However, we know delayed transfers continue to run higher than the equivalent period last winter. Although some of this increase can be attributed to data quality last year, it remains a concern. We have asked local health leaders to redouble their efforts on this issue so as to spot issues early and take action.
“The number of calls to NHS 111 that are answered within 60 seconds have again this week dipped below 95 per cent, although satisfaction with the service remains high with 89 per cent of callers satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received. We continue to watch the situation closely to ensure NHS 111 continues to provide a good service.”
Staff in casualty units in Doncaster and Worksop yesterday said they were seeing record numbers of patients, yet around one in five did not need emergency care.
Abdul Jalil, clinical director for emergency care at the Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS trust, said: “We’ve been exceptionally busy in our emergency departments and are seeing increasing numbers of patients who are extremely unwell. It’s vital that we can focus our attention on them, which can mean longer waits for people who don’t actually need emergency treatment. We hope that local people will support us in keeping A&E for emergencies only.”