Thousands more ambulance patients are facing long waits at overloaded A&E departments than at the same time last year, NHS statistics have revealed.
Last week 16,254 people arriving by ambulance had to wait more than half an hour to be seen by A&E staff after arriving at a hospital in England.
This compared to 9,357 in the same week last year, showing a 75 per cent increase. And hour-long waits were three times as high as last year.
Almost 100,000 people were ferried to emergency departments by ambulance last week – equal to one person every six seconds.
Hospital doctors said the NHS is ‘under the most pressure it has ever seen’ and they don’t know how they’ll make it through the winter.
The figures come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed the promised £34billion NHS funding boost in his Queen’s speech today.
And they follow statistics released last week which showed A&E departments are in their worst ever state and one in five people are waiting more than four hours.
The winter vomiting bug norovirus is still circulating, too, and cases are higher than average, with more than 6,000 hospital beds shut because of it last week.
The NHS’s 111 helpline had 20 per cent more calls (an extra 70,000) than it did at the same time last year, answering a total of 345,883 last week.
The Society for Acute Medicine said: ‘The NHS is under the most pressure it has ever seen and quite how we will get through the next few weeks and months remains to be seen’
‘The NHS is under the most pressure it has ever seen,’ said Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine.
‘Quite how we will get through the next few weeks and months remains to be seen.
‘We need to urgently support our staff throughout the NHS as they are reaching the stage of utter exhaustion after more than two years of unrelenting and increasing stress and workload.’
Today, Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured at the House of Lords beside Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) confirmed that his Government would ensure the NHS budget will increase by £33.9billion by 2023/24
NHS statistics today showed that 11,785 out of 99,958 ambulance patients (16.3 per cent) waited between 30 minutes and an hour to be handed over to hospital staff last week.
And a further 4,469 (4.5 per cent) waited longer than 60 minutes.
By comparison, in the second week of December 2018, 9.7 per cent of patients waited over half an hour (7,866 out of 96,284) and 1.5 per cent (1,491) waited more than an hour.
NHS guidance says patients should be handed over from ambulances to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arriving.
PRIME MINISTER PROMISES NHS SUPPORT IN HIS QUEEN’S SPEECH
The NHS was promised billions of extra pounds in today’s Queen’s speech, which set out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s priorities for his term in office.
The speech made it a legal requirement that the Government boost the NHS budget by the £33.9billion in cash terms by 2023/24.
The Conservatives have promised 50,000 more nurses, 50million more GP appointments each year, 6,000 more GPs, 40 new hospitals and 20 upgraded ones.
Mr Johnson also said measures would be put in place to scrap hospital car park charges for ‘those in greatest need’, including the disabled, parents of sick children staying overnight and staff working night shifts.
The Queen’s Speech also contained a cast iron guarantee that the NHS is ‘not, and never will be, for sale’ in a move to kill off a key Labour attack line that dominated the general election campaign.
It also states unequivocally that the price of NHS drugs will not be ‘on the table’ during post-Brexit trade talks – a claim repeatedly made by Jeremy Corbyn.
Until then they are kept in corridors or ambulances and looked after by paramedics. The NHS does not reveal how many people wait longer than a quarter of an hour.
During a patient handover, the paramedics who brought the patient to hospital transfer their care and a record of what has happened to nurses working in A&E.
On some measures, the NHS’s performance was better last week than it was at the beginning of December, when the first shocking winter statistics were released.
Fewer A&Es had to divert ambulances away, fewer people attended A&E and fewer beds were closed because of norovirus.
Beds are still worryingly full, however, and occupancy rates still hovered around 95 per cent which was last week described as ‘a level which will make it near impossible to admit many patients in need’.
Chief analyst at health think-tank the King’s Fund, Siva Anandaciva, said: ‘Despite a relatively mild start to the winter, the health service is running red-hot, with around 95 per cent of hospital beds occupied, well above the recommended safe level.
‘This doesn’t bode well for the coming weeks when temperatures are likely to drop and flu levels increase.’
Today’s statistics showed the number of people having long hospital stays is markedly higher than the same time last year.
Some 294,105 people had been in hospital for more than a week by December 15, compared to 280,906 last year.
And the number of two-week stays was 169,785, up from 160,889 in that week in 2018.
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals and ambulances, Niall Dickson SAID: ‘At the sharp end of the NHS every day, nurses, doctors and other front line staff give brilliant care to millions of patients.
‘But as these figures show all too clearly, many are now struggling to deliver the safe, high-quality care they are desperate to provide.’
Norovirus statistics published today by Public Health England showed the vomiting and diarrhoea bug is still doing the rounds all over the country.
In the last week of November and the first week of December there were 13 outbreaks of norovirus officially reported and 448 people diagnosed.
The number of outbreaks is lower than the average for this time of year but individual cases are 67 per cent higher, according to PHE.
Norovirus, along with flu, is a big contributor to soaring pressure on the NHS in the winter because it can cause diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration and spreads rapidly.
Public Health England said last week that levels of norovirus are the highest they’ve been in the past three years.
The NHS data today showed 6,247 hospital beds had to be closed last week to stop the virus spreading.
In a statement issued this morning an NHS spokesperson said: ‘Hospitals now have more beds open than this time last year, but flu and norovirus have kicked in a bit earlier so are adding pressure at a time when the NHS is already looking after significantly more people than ever before.
‘The NHS has already looked after a million more people in A&E this year compared to last.
‘As we head into the holiday period it’s really important that the public help our hardworking staff by getting their flu vaccine now, using the free NHS 111 phone and online service for urgent medical needs, seeing their local pharmacist for minor ailments and ensuring they are stocked up on the medication they need.’
NHS 111 has prevented some three million people from going to hospital or calling an ambulance in the last year, NHS data also claimed.
It said that it received 13.5million calls received this year and managed to reassure those not sure whether they needed emergency help or not.
For the year leading up to September 2019, the NHS said, 15 per cent of callers said they would otherwise have phoned an ambulance while 30 per cent would have gone to A&E.
NEW GOVERNMENT FACES PRESSURE TO FIX NHS ‘ON ITS KNEES’
Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party will face pressure from throughout the health service to try and get hospitals out of what appears to be year-round crisis.
The state of the NHS was thrust to centre stage of the election campaign last week when photos emerged of two children asleep while waiting for hospital beds – one on the floor and another on a chair.
Nine-month-old Lily was pictured sleeping on a chair at 2am at a hospital in Merseyside because no hospital beds were free
The Conservatives have promised a £33.9billion funding boost for the NHS, 50,000 more nurses, 50million more GP appointments each year, 6,000 more GPs, 40 new hospitals and 20 upgraded ones.
The Royal College of Nursing’s Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The Prime Minister must remember that the Government’s new mandate was secured on the back of health and care pledges over which we will hold them to account.
‘Nursing cannot afford any more piecemeal workforce planning, nor underfunding and working conditions that both put off new recruits and cause experienced nurses to leave the profession they love.
‘Any attempts to row back from what patients need will be met with short shrift from the nurses who serve them.
‘Extensive expert research shows that registered nurses are the key to patient safety, and it needs to be clear in law who in Government and in the system is responsible for ensuring there are sufficient numbers of nurses to meet patients’ needs.’
Richard Murray, chief executive of healthcare think-tank The King’s Fund said: ‘These sobering figures show the urgent need for the new Conservative government to make good on its promises to focus on our ailing health and care services.’
Matt Hancock, the Government’s Health Secretary, has spearheaded promises to invest billions of pounds in new and upgraded hospitals and to recruit more nurses and doctors (Pictured: Mr Hancock visiting the Countess of Chester Hospital)
And the Nuffield Trust’s Nigel Edwards added: ‘The new Government really will need to deliver the 50,000 nurses promised – even if this means more reliance on migrants than they’ve said.
‘We need a long-term commitment to funding for NHS infrastructure, not one-off announcements. And we need to finally see the overhaul of England’s failing social care system that has been pledged so many times.’
The British Medical Associaton’s Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘It’s vital that the Government starts today to make a difference on the frontline – especially as we head into the busiest time of the year.
‘The challenges are huge, which is why the BMA calls upon the Government to act immediately to halt the decline in our NHS.’
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