NHS winter crisis sees 7,000 more patients wait outside busy A&E units

NHS winter crisis sees 7,000 more patients wait outside busy A&E units than last year as hospitals face ‘the most pressure ever seen’

  • 100,000 people got an ambulance to A&E last week – one every six seconds
  • Some 16.3 per cent of them waited for half an hour or more to be taken inside
  • And 4,469 waited more than an hour, which is treble the same week last year
  • One doctor union said hospitals were under the most pressure they’ve ever seen 

Thousands more people are waiting outside overloaded A&E departments than at the same time last year, NHS statistics have revealed.

Last week 16,254 people had to wait more than half an hour to be let inside 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 is expected to confirm a £33billion 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 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.’

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.

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.’

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.’


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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