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A&E departments suffer worst four-hour wait performance on record

Only 79.8% of patients were seen within four hours in all A&E departments in December, making it the worst month for performance since records began, official figures show.

This compares with 81.4% in November 2019, and 86.5% in December 2018, the NHS England figures show. The target for 95% of patients to be seen within the four-hour timeframe was last met five years ago – in July 2015.

Doctor leaders have said the situation is ‘totally unacceptable’ and demands ‘urgent action’ – including on the ‘punitive’ pensions tax charges, which are discouraging doctors to take on extra shifts. 

In December 2019 there was also an increase in four-hour delays from decision to admission, with 98,452 delays, compared to 59,805 in the same month of the previous year.

Of these, 2,347 patients were delayed by over twelve hours, compared to only 284 in December 2018. This is the highest number of over four and twelve hour delays from decision to admit to admission since data collection began, the NHS England report said.

The figures also show that only one of 118 NHS trusts with a type 1 A&E department – those with a consultant-led 24-hour service – achieved the 95% standard on all types during the month. No other trusts achieved the standard.

The total number of attendances at A&E departments in December 2019 was 2,181,024, – a 6.5% increase on December 2018. 

There were also 560,801 emergency admissions in the month, the highest rate on record for December, and a 2.9% increase on December 2018, the figures show.

Dr Simon Walsh, emergency medicine lead at the BMA, said: ‘These figures are truly alarming and serve as yet further evidence that our NHS simply doesn’t have the resources, staff, or capacity cope with rocketing demand.

‘Emergency departments suffered their worst month on record in December…. These are sick patients, often left in cramped hospital corridors, until a bed is available.’

He added: ’This is totally unacceptable and demands urgent action. A priority for the Government must be to scrap the ridiculous punitive pension taxation system, which is forcing many doctors to cut their working hours. We need a long-term fix to this crisis, so that doctors can get back to doing what they do best – caring for their patients.’