A&E patients in England experienced the worst month of delays in January since a four-hour target was introduced 13 years ago, leaked figures suggest.
It showed that more than 60,000 people waited between four and 12 hours for a hospital bed. And more than 780 waited more than 12 hours. Both figures are record highs since the introduction in 2004 of a target that 95% of patients must be seen and either admitted or discharged in under four hours.
The leaked document from NHS Improvement suggests that out of 1.4m visits in January, only 82% were dealt with within the four-hour target.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Tajek Hassan, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “The [four-hour] target is a very sophisticated metric of the overall system and the thermostat is set red hot in the emergency department.”
He added: “We are facing an incredible demand on our services. The dignity of care is significantly compromised. The international evidence shows that the more crowded your emergency departments are the higher the risk of dying. Delays to assessment will compromise your care.”
The NHS Providers chief executive, Chris Hopson, said: “These figures have not been verified and should therefore be treated with caution, but they are in line with the feedback we have been getting from trusts.
“NHS staff have responded magnificently to increased winter pressures, but the situation has become unsustainable. The rise in long trolley waits is particularly worrying, as there is clear evidence they can lead to worse outcomes for patients.”
Hospitals have not hit the target nationally since the summer of 2015.
A Department of Health spokesman said the January data was yet to be verified and that official figures, due out on Thursday morning, only covered December.
He said: “We do not recognise these figures – it is irresponsible to publish unverified data and does a disservice to all NHS staff working tirelessly to provide care around the clock.
“Despite the pressures of winter, the vast majority of patients are seen and treated quickly and hospitals have detailed plans in place to manage busy periods – supported by an extra £400m of funding.”
Dr Mark Porter, chair of the British Medical Association council, said delays in A&E were a symptom of a bigger crisis in social care, which the government was failing to grasp.
“When social care isn’t available, patients experience delays in moving from hospital to appropriate ongoing care settings – preventing patients being admitted at the front end in A&E,” he said.
“The prime minister cannot continue to bury her head in the sand as care continues to worsen.”