Record high trolley waits in NHS hospitals in England, think tank warns

Tens of thousands of patients who have been deemed sick enough to be admitted to hospital after attending A&E have been forced to wait for hours on end before being put on a ward, according to new analysis.

Figures from the health think tank the King’s Fund found that so-called trolley waits reached record levels in England throughout the month of January.

The think tank’s latest report highlights how in the first month of the year, more than 81,000 patients waited longer than four hours from a decision to admit until their admission on to a ward.

Meanwhile, 1,043 patients waited more than 12 hours, the highest on record, it added.

NHS Providers said “patients deserve better”.

Meanwhile the King’s Fund latest quarterly monitoring report highlights that patients receiving routine treatment are also experiencing longer waiting times.

While patients are expected to start treatment for routine care within 18 weeks from a referral from a GP, the King’s Fund said that in December 12% of people waited longer than this, the highest level since 2009.

And the number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment increased to 1,750.

The think tank warned there was “very little protection for people who can’t be treated within the initial time limit”.

Figures on A&E performance in February are expected later on Thursday.

Richard Murray (pictured), director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “The way waiting times are designed means that there is very little protection for people who can’t be treated within the initial time limit.

“With demand for services likely to remain high, it’s very unlikely that meeting these targets will become more achievable.

“The waiting time standards should not be abandoned but the NHS needs to ensure the way they are implemented does not leave patients who are not treated within the time limits facing long waits for treatment.”

Commenting on the report, deputy chief executive NHS Providers Saffron Cordery said: “NHS trusts and frontline staff are doing all they can to ensure patients receive safe and timely care.

“But as these findings show, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve this when demand for treatment is growing so quickly, and funding is so tight.

“It is disturbing to see that ‘trolley waits’ have reached record levels. Patients deserve better.

“It is also disappointing to see so many people waiting longer than 18 weeks for planned routine operations. It feels like we are losing the hard-won gains of the last decade.

“We have reached a watershed moment. We need to see urgent steps towards establishing a long-term funding solution for health and social care.”

An NHS England spokesman said: “During December and January, the NHS actually treated 130,000 more patients within the four-hour A&E target than over those same winter months last year.

“What’s more, the first ever waiting times targets for mental health treatments have been introduced – and are being met – and new ambulance targets mean 750,000 calls a year that used to go into a queue now will get an immediate response.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “We have turned the clock back to the bad old days with more than 1,000 patients waiting more than 12 hours for treatment in A and E departments.

“This is simply not acceptable and it is only the most stark signal of a whole system under incredible strain.

“The impact of this winter and the financial crisis gripping the health and care services throughout England is now clear and it is time to focus on the solutions – we need long-term funding commitments, we need a reformed system that joins up different parts of a fragmented system, and we need politicians to wake up to the reality of what is happening.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No patient should have to endure lengthy waits in hospital, but the fact is just 0.06% of emergency admissions via A&E had to wait over 12 hours following a decision to admit in 2017/18.

“The Government remains fully committed to waiting time standards, which is why we’re supporting the NHS to improve performance in the face of growing demand with an extra £2.8bn to help hospitals see and treat hundreds of thousands more patients.”

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