MORE than 100,000 A&E patients waited for hours to be treated in hospitals in January, the highest number since records began, NHS figures show.
There were 100,578 patients delayed more than four hours, of whom 2,846 waited more than 12 hours from decision to admit to admission, according to performance statistics released by NHS England.
For both delays, this is the highest number of ‘trolley waits’ since records began. It is an increase of 20.4% and 353.9% respectively from the same month a year ago, when there were 83,554 four-hour waits and just 627 12-hour waits.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said the figures showed the strain on the NHS was ‘relentless, deepening and showing no sign of recovery’.
Commenting on the new crisis, doctors’ union the BMA warned: ‘Strain on health service is relentless and staff are run into the ground.’
And responding to the latest NHS performance figures which show that nearly 200,000 people waited over 4 hours on trolleys this winter and 12-hour trolley waits are almost six times more than last winter, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:
‘This latest set of performance figures confirm what doctors have been telling us and indeed the reality experienced by patients daily; that the strain on our health service is relentless, deepening and showing no sign of recovery.
‘With nearly 200,000 people waiting over 4 hours on a trolley so far this winter – 56,000 more than the same time last year – and almost six times more people waiting over 12 hours on trolleys this winter compared to last, the government is simply failing to get a grip on winter pressures.
‘Stories of patient deaths on corridors, rammed emergency departments and cancellations of patients’ procedures as a daily occurrence are becoming the new norm as doctors across the country say they are exhausted and run into the ground.
‘This is an unacceptable situation for a civilised health service; it is failing patients and is not sustainable.
‘This is also the second winter where we are seeing the ramifications of the pension crisis which is having a significant impact on patient care as doctors are deterred from working longer hours due to perverse financial penalties.
‘This requires a permanent solution, and as such we calling on the government to scrap the annual allowance, including taper, in defined benefit schemes to address this once and for all.
‘With the budget coming up next month, the government must fulfil its responsibility and obligation to end the shameful suffering experienced by patients due to this serious lack of capacity.
‘The BMA is calling for an increase in total health funding by 4.1% annually as current spending commitments fall short of what is needed if we are to avert another winter crisis.’
Susan Masters, Director of Nursing Policy and Practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘It is shocking to learn that last month, over 100,000 emergency patients in England had to wait more than four hours on trolleys or chairs for a hospital bed, the highest number ever.
‘It is extremely difficult for nurses to provide safe and effective care in these circumstances, as well as extremely distressing for patients and their families.
‘But hospitals cannot open more beds without more nurses to staff them – and there are currently over 43,000 vacant nursing posts in the NHS in England alone.
‘Ministers must provide funding to grow the workforce in next month’s Budget and make clear in law who’s responsible for workforce planning and supply.’
- Meanwhile, it has emerged that NHS 111 call handlers are not asking all patients with flu-like symptoms if they have travelled to nine Asian countries hit by the killer coronavirus.
Instead, the 24/7 helpline is allegedly telling callers who have been to at-risk nations, such as China, Japan and Thailand, to visit their GP.
Department of Health and NHS chiefs advise all suspected cases to not visit their doctor, in the hope of containing the never-before-seen virus. The BMA has even reportedly complained to the NHS and Department of Health about the issue.
NHS England, which runs the helpline, denies the claim and says it offers patients clear options on what to do if they are concerned about SARS-CoV-2.
Eight cases of the deadly coronavirus have already been recorded in Britain, with six of them in Brighton, a city gripped by fears of the deadly bug. Health chiefs are frantically tracing all known contacts of the infected, which include two doctors and the ‘super-spreader’ Steve Walsh.
As of yesterday, more than 68,500 patients have caught the virus across the world, and at least 1,669 have died – but experts fear the crisis is ‘just getting started’.
Dr Stephanie deGiorgio, a GP based in Kent, voiced her concerns about NHS 111 handlers palming patients off to surgeries. Dr Emma Nash, a GP partner, replied to Dr deGiorgio’s tweet questioning if NHS 111 protocols have been updated on the official advice.
And a doctor who spent two days working at Worthing Hospital’s A&E department has tested positive for coronavirus.
- At the same time an isolation pod has been widely pictured at Eastbourne District General Hospital in Sussex, 20 miles west of Brighton. NHS bosses told all hospitals in England to set up the isolation booths, from which people suspected of having coronavirus can speak to specialist medics on the phone while being kept away from the general public in the hospital.
Ministers last week told all Britons flying back from nine countries in Asia that have recorded cases to phone NHS 111 if they feel even slightly unwell.
The guidance applied to passengers who have arrived from China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau.
The countries were ‘identified because of the volume of air travel, understanding of other travel routes and number of reported cases’. And Public Health England issued official coronavirus guidance for doctors before any cases were confirmed on British soil.
Doctors were told too to leave the room straight away and shut their patient in if they think they may have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. If the situation ever arose, GPs were also told to wash their hands with soap and water and continue the consultation over the phone.
If the patient is critically ill, they should be put into an ambulance. But otherwise, a hospital should be phoned ahead and warned.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus super-spreader Steve Walsh, who inadvertently infected 11 people with the disease on a ski-break in the Alps, has left St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
- BMA publication Pulse has reported that the GP Committee of the British Medical Association raised the NHS 111 issue with NHS England and the Department of Health.
GPC member Dr Peter Holden said: ‘I drew it to the attention of the relevant clinical authorities at the weekend and am still waiting for a report on what is happening.’
Another anonymous GP said they read NHS 111 reports of patients and ‘not one’ with flu-like symptoms was asked if they had travelled from any of the affected regions.
Symptoms of the virus can include a fever, cough and shortness of breath – which are also known signs of the flu, which strikes each winter.
Dr Stephanie deGiorgio who voiced her concerns about NHS 111 handlers palming patients off to surgeries tweeted: ‘111 are STILL directing people back to their GP after the GP has phone triaged and asked them to contact 111 as we are guided to.’