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NHS had worst November on record, shows first winter pressures report

The number of A&E patients seen within the four-hour waiting target was the lowest on record last month, according to the latest NHS England figures.

The report, which shows the start of winter pressures, also found a substantial increase in patients on treatment waiting lists, as well as an increase in the number waiting longer than the 18 weeks or less target.

GPs warned that this will be the ‘toughest winter yet’, while MPs called the figures ‘hugely concerning’, especially as ‘winter is only just beginning’.

This comes after Pulse revealed that an ambulance trust running GP out-of-hours services was forced to reduce the number of doctors on shift over winter, after overspending its budget earlier in the year.

The figures, published by NHS England today, found that there were 24.4m A&E attendances in the last twelve months and 6.25m emergency admissions to hospital.

The report said that last month, just 87.6% of patients were seen within four hours, far below the 95% target, and a drop compared with 88.8% last November. This represents the worst November on record for this target.

Meanwhile, by the end of October, 4.2m people were on waiting lists for treatment, an increase of 6.7% compared to a year earlier. Of those on waiting lists, 87.1% had been waiting for 18 weeks or less, a decline from 89.3% in October 2017.

Health Foundation policy fellow Dr Becks Fisher, a GP in Oxford, said: ‘Today’s data paints a picture of a system struggling against strong tides. The dedication of NHS staff is without question, but there is a shortage of at least 100,000 of them. With adverse weather, flu and vomiting viruses yet to fully hit, the NHS faces its toughest winter yet.’

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, MP for Leicester South, said: ‘Winter is only just beginning for our NHS and these are hugely concerning figures that don’t bode well for the difficult weeks ahead.

‘While Government remains paralysed by Brexit infighting, the NHS is struggling as a result of years of underfunding, cuts and staffing shortages.’

‘Patients will expect the imminent NHS plan to have a clear credible solution to chronic understaffing and a roadmap for restoring performance that has so unacceptably deteriorated in recent years,’ he continued.

Earlier this month, national statistics showed that there were over 50,000 excess winter deaths in England and Wales last winter, the highest recorded since 1975/76. This was thought to be a result of high flu prevalence, alongside the ineffectiveness of the flu vaccine and colder than usual temperatures.

Despite these stark findings, Public Health England data has shown that the number of over-65s vaccinated against flu in time for this winter is down significantly compared to the same time last year, following global supply issues which caused chaos this vaccination season.