Waiting times within the NHS have reached their worst for over a decade. The recently published report shows many hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to respond to the growing need for both urgent and non-urgent care. With the colder months still to come, the current picture is very worrying with most leaders predicting it will be the worst on record.
NHS waiting times report
Accident and emergency
NHS England has reported that less than three quarters (74.5%) of people who sought care at an A&E unit in England during October 2019 were treated and then discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours. The target introduced in 2004 aims for 95% of patients to be dealt with within four hours in A&E. The figures are now at the lowest rate since the target was introduced.
The true state of the statistics may be even worse as NHS England records the waiting time as beginning the moment a doctor decides to admit the patient and does not include the potential hours spent waiting beforehand.
Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) Winter Flow Report
In the first Winter Flow Report, undertaken by the RCEM, it has been revealed only 68.79% of NHS patients were seen within four hours. President of the RCEM, Dr Katherine Henderson, commented:
“The key difference in the data is the way in which it is reported. Our data measures the number of patients waiting over 12 hours from the moment they arrive at an Emergency Department whereas NHS England start the clock at the point at which a decision to admit is made.”
In their annual Winter Flow Project, RCEM found over 5,000 patients waited for longer than 12 hours in the Emergency Departments of 50 Trusts and Boards across the UK in the first week of December alone.
This is supported by research from the RCEM that has found that in just one-third of NHS Trusts that more than 38,000 patients have waited longer than 12 hours for a bed since the start of October. This is a stark contrast to official NHS England data which suggests only 13,000 patients have endured such waits across England since 2011/12.
In a shocking recent example, an image of a four year old boy sleeping on the floor on a pile of coats at Leeds General Infirmary after being rushed to hospital by ambulance, has been circulating in the news. The child needed an oxygen mask but despite this he did not get a bed for over 13 hours before being diagnosed with influenza A and tonsillitis.
The latest figures show that, worryingly, only 76.9% of cancer patients were starting treatment within 62 days following an emergency referral from their GP which is far below the target of 85%. In total, 168,390 patients were not seen or treated within the specified times.
At the end of September 2019, there were 4.42 million patients on the referral waiting list, this is the highest number ever. Whilst the number of NHS patients having surgery in private hospitals has nearly trebled in the last decade.
Targets were also missed for non-urgent operations, such as cataract removals, hernia repairs and hip and knee replacements. The NHS England report gives the waiting list for knee and hip replacements to have reached a record high of 4.45 million patients in October 2019.
Patient safety at risk
The latest statistics raise very real concerns that patients will suffer because of the fast mounting delays in accessing vital care. The Shadow Health Secretary commented in light of these figures that:
“we’re heading for a winter of abject misery for patients.”
A study by leading NHS doctors has found that almost 5,449 patients have died over the past three years as a direct result of waiting for anywhere between six and 11 hours in an A&E unit waiting for a bed in overcrowded hospitals. The study concluded the deaths are entirely and solely caused by the length of wait and not the patient’s condition.
This figure means that one in every 83 people who have to wait over six hours in A&E will die as a direct result of the delay in them starting specialist care for their condition.
The risk of death was found to be one in 31 for those kept on a trolley for nine hours, and one in 30 for patients whose admission is delayed for 11 hours.
It emerged that a man died of a cardiac arrest after waiting for an hour in the ambulance outside of Worcestershire NHS Trust on 27th November 2019.
How Nelsons can help
At Nelsons, our expert Medical Negligence team in Derby, Leicester and Nottingham are specialists and well experienced in delay of diagnosis and treatment claims. If you are concerned there was a delay in your diagnosis or treatment or any other negligence regarding your care, we are here to help you.