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Record A&E attendances and worst-ever referral waiting times, official data shows

New NHS data has shown record highs of A&E attendances, alongside the worst-ever waiting times for treatment referrals. 

Additionally, there has been a marked increase in operation cancellations and 12-hour trolley waits since last year.

A total of 2,266,913 people attended emergency units in England last month – the highest figure for July since current records began in August 2010, and 4% more than in July 2018.

Out of these, 86.5% were seen within four hours. This is a 0.6% increase from the same period last year, but nonetheless means that the target for 95% of patients to be seen within four hours has been missed for four consecutive years. 

This target was achieved by just four of 119 major A&E departments, and may be a catalyst to NHS England scrapping this target, which could happen in April, according to an interim report on NHS access standards. 

There were also 554,069 emergency admissions in July, an increase of 4.6% since July 2018.

Elsewhere, the number of people waiting for planned hospital treatment exceeded 4.5 million, and the amount of people waiting over 18 weeks to start treatment reached its highest level for over a decade, at 13.7%. Also halted was progress on efforts to reduce the list of people waiting over a year to begin treatment. 

Overall, 57,694 patients spent more than four hours waiting on a trolley, which is 35% higher than in July last year. Similarly, trolley waits this April, May and June were those months’ highest since records began. 

The BMA urged the Government to ‘realise that behind these figures are patients who are suffering because they do not have timely access to care and staff who are being pushed to their limits, to the detriment of an effectively functioning health service’, and further called on political leaders to resolve the pensions crisis. 

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Dr Rob Harwood, consultants committee chair at the BMA, added: ‘Today’s figures show the continuing rapid deterioration of performance levels within the health service, as despite being the middle of summer, the NHS is experiencing pressures reminiscent of the worst winters.

‘The situation for patients is extremely concerning with over 4.5 million people waiting for treatment – the highest figure on record – and 12-hour trolley waits tripling compared to this time last year.

‘With 20,000 cancelled operations in the last quarter – up by 6% in the same period last year – June waiting times for cancer treatment and referrals the worst since records began, and July being the busiest month for A&E attendances ever recorded, the NHS is in desperate need of a lifeline.’

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘Today’s figures make clear that patients face a long wait to see improvements in care as a result of the NHS funding boost. 

Measures announced by the Government this week to review consultants’ pensions have the potential to reduce some of the operational pressures which are leading to declining performance, but addressing chronic staff shortages in the NHS will require a raft of measures and must be an priority for the new government.’

The sentiment was echoed by the Nuffield Trust, whose chief executive Nigel Edwards commented: ‘The soaring temperatures in July have taken their toll on patients and staff, with a record number of people turning up to A&E last month.

‘The number of people waiting over four hours on trolleys to be admitted was also unusually high for summer at over 57,000 – a figure that would have once been unthinkable, even in the depths of winter.

‘And it’s not just about A&E – sadly these figures show relentless pressure throughout the whole system. More than one in 10 people on the list for planned treatment are now waiting over 18 weeks, the worst level since January 2009, and the key two-month cancer treatment target now hasn’t been met in three and a half years.’

Pulse previously exclusively revealed that a quarter of GPs are finding it more difficult to employ locums due to competition from GP ‘streaming’ services in A&E departments.