A KING’S Fund report has warned that government cuts and staff shortages led to a 38 per cent increase in A&E waiting times in the last quarter of 2012.
The think-thank’s report said: ‘The proportion of patients waiting more than four hours from arrival in A&E to admission, transfer or discharge in the third quarter of 2012/13 (October to December) rose by 21 per cent over the previous year and 38 per cent on the previous quarter.
‘Nevertheless, overall, the NHS remained within target on this waiting times measure – although around a quarter, or 65 trusts, recorded breaching the target during this quarter, affecting more than 232,000 patients.’
Chief Economist at The King’s Fund, Professor John Appleby, said: ‘The percentages may look small but it is affecting a lot of people now, 232,000 in that quarter, so nearing a million if that were repeated year round.
‘Also, the number of trusts it is affecting is increasing, showing it is no longer just a problem for a few trusts.’
Appleby warned: ‘The NHS faces unprecedented financial pressures, and there are growing worries that patient care will suffer.
‘For social care, it will be increasingly difficult for councils to make further savings without directly cutting services or affecting quality.
‘Health and care services have coped well until now, but it is clear that many organisations expect things to become much more difficult over the coming year.’
A survey by HCL Workforce Solutions, which is a leading supplier of locum doctors, has warned: ‘We believe that the real emergency in the UK’s emergency departments lies in the chronic shortage of trained medics which, unless urgently and nationally addressed, will reach crisis point in the future.’
HCL found that in some trusts as many as four in ten A&E doctors are locums.
Its survey said: ‘Approximately 67% of Trusts employed consultants to work traditional 9am-5pm shifts on weekdays.
‘Only 58% of Trusts employed consultants to work out-of-hours on weekdays and weekends.
‘The data revealed 19% of NHS Acute Trusts had vacancies for middle grade doctors, and 36% had vacancies for consultants.
‘This shows a year-on-year increase in spending on locum doctors of almost 30% in the first year, with a smaller increase the following year.
‘Trend: Reliance on locum A&E doctors is increasing despite pressure on the NHS to reduce costs (including nationally and regionally-led QIPP programmes), clearly demonstrating the chronic shortage of qualified A&E physicians across the country.’
Meanwhile, older adults across the UK are facing the prospect of reduced assistance as social services bosses admit they are looking to make cuts to face-to-face care.
A study by The King’s Fund has discovered seven out of ten directors of social care are planning to reduce the number of visits made by carers.
Some of these visits may be replaced by remote alarm and phone link services in an effort to cut costs.
Over the last four years, local councils have seen the amount of government funding they receive drop by an average of 27 per cent. Because it takes up a third of budgets in most cases, social care is being hit the hardest by the cuts.