Emergency admissions are at their highest since records began 10 years ago, according to new figures from NHS England.
Figures for the week ending 7 December show that there were 436,229 individual attendances at A&E departments – nearly 4,000 more than week before, and over 20,000 more than at this time last year.
Last week also saw nearly 5,000 more emergency admissions than were recorded for the same week in 2013, at 110,100.
NHSE’s latest ‘winter health check’ report also shows that record numbers of patients are waiting longer for treatment in A&E departments, despite the NHS’s claims that they are ‘pulling out all the stops’ to open extra beds and seven-day services using extra winter funding provided by the Government.
While the NHS’s own target is for 95% of patients to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of presenting at A&E, the report also showed that only 91.8% of patients attending A&E last week met with this target – compared to 94.8% the year before.
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter said that the figures showed a system ‘cracking under extreme pressure’, and warned that GPs were struggling to cope.
He said: ‘While the NHS is used to seeing a spike in demand during winter months, this year it’s experienced a spring, summer and autumn crisis as well, leaving no spare capacity in hospitals as we hit winter.
‘This is not just a crisis in emergency care – bed shortages and high numbers of patients inappropriately in hospital beds are now major stress factors on the system, leading to unacceptable delays in treating and discharging patients. Outside of hospitals, GP surgeries are struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of demand.’
He added: ‘Patients should be treated on the basis of clinical need rather than an arbitrary target, but these figures point to a system cracking under extreme pressure, leading to unacceptable delays in care.’
Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said: ‘Unsurprisingly, this level of demand continues to put extra pressure on our hospitals but the NHS remains resilient and is pulling out all the stops, with local hospitals, ambulances, GPs, home health services and local councils all working hard to open extra beds and seven-day services using the extra winter funding that has been made available.’
But Dr Porter said that while frontline staff were working ‘flat-out’ to meet the added demand, the system ‘can’t cope with the sheer number of patients coming through the door’.
He said: ‘So far there has been a total failure by Government to come up with a meaningful plan to deal with this – funding announced recently to tackle winter pressures is simply recycled money, taken from other overstretched services.
‘There is no getting away from the fact that the NHS needs more investment to ensure there are enough staff and resources to meet rising demand, and part of this means taking urgent action to address the high number of staff vacancies in emergency medicine as well as general practice.’