The A&E Crisis Continues – Are 12-Hour Wait Times The New Norm?

A&E 12-Hour Wait Times

Last week, the BBC reported the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for a ward bed after being seen in A&E in England was 19 times higher this winter than it was before the pandemic.

According to winter statistics, there were nearly 100,000 12-hour waits in December 2023 and January 2024. In comparison, in the four winters up to 2013/2014, there were less than 100 12-hour waits!

The delays patients are facing to be seen in A&E are also worse and it has been reported that more than 30% of patients have waited at least four hours over the past two months.

NHS England’s National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis commented that this has been “one of the busiest winters ever” and with no sign of things improving into February.

This follows various related articles, including reports that:

  • A&E wait times at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital have reached a record high due to a “steep rise” in people attending.
  • Wait times at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust reached 13 hours in early January.
  • Wait times at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust are among the worst in London.

Of significant concern is a very recent news story relating to the tragic death of a young woman at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, who was found unresponsive under her coat whilst waiting to be seen in A&E for 7 hours (see our previous blog).

Comment

This is a clear nationwide problem that is directly impacting patient safety, potentially putting lives at risk and overall, normalising poor performance across the NHS.

Various factors are contributing to the ongoing A&E crisis and these need to be tackled head-on to improve the current situation. It is well-recognised that the NHS is under significant pressure due to increased attendance during the winter months, but also due to a considerable lack of resources and ongoing strike action. Further intensive strike action planned throughout 2024 will only contribute to further delays in care, both in the emergency and planned treatment setting.

Whilst there are some reports that too many people are attending A&E when they don’t need to, it appears that this does not provide a true reflection of the underlying reasons behind the delays, particularly as hospitals are generally seeing increased rates of admission following assessment in A&E.

Plans to reassess target wait times in A&E departments were announced in 2019 but subsequently halted by the pandemic. As wait times have increased significantly since the pandemic, the NHS has been forced to return to the issue.

Whilst initiatives such as virtual wards, additional hospital beds, and the NHS’ Long Term Workforce Plan have been introduced, clearly more needs to be done. It is hoped that as this issue continues to attract press attention, a robust action plan will be put in place to carefully monitor the situation and achieve sustainable improvements in A&E wait times and patient experiences.

How can we help?

Shrdha Kapoor is an Associate in our Medical Negligence team, ranked in tier one by the independently researched publication, The Legal 500. Shrdha specialises in a wide variety of medical negligence claims, including claims against hospitals.

If you have any questions about the topics in this article, please contact Shrdha or another member of the team in DerbyLeicester, or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.

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