NHS A&E wait times worst on record as health service attempts to cope with increasing demand

  • Video report by ITV News Health Correspondent Emily Morgan

The NHS recorded its poorest A&E performance in December with almost 100,000 patients waiting more than four hours for a bed.

NHS England figures showed 79.8% of A&E patients were seen within four hours - the worst figure on record and set against a target of 95%.

The four-hour target for 95% of patients treated or admitted was introduced in 2004.

In December some 98,452 patients waited more than four hours to be admitted – 64.6% higher than December 2018.

Of these, 2,347 waited more than 12 hours - another record high and a 726.4% increase from the previous year.

More than a fifth of people who attended emergency departments had to wait more than four hours to be seen.

The monthly performance statistics show there were 2,181,024 attendances last month - a 6.5% rise from December 2018.

This resulted in 4,307 extra attendances per day - the highest number on record.

Health bodies have warned the figures were particularly concerning because a cold spell would cause further problems and "bring the system to its knees".

Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: "The NHS is struggling to escape its spiral of decline.

"With a record low in terms of four-hour performance and highest ever number of 12-hour waits, this will have been a miserable Christmas period for many patients and staff alike."

Just 79.8% of A&E patients were seen within four hours. Credit: PA

Nuffield Trust chief economist Professor John Appleby said: "Once a rare and almost unthinkable event, in December over 2,000 people waited more than 12 hours on a trolley to be admitted to a bed on a hospital ward.

"Last month also saw over 98,000 people waiting more than four hours on a trolley.

"We warned this could top 100,000 as winter goes on and at this rate it could get even worse."

The figures also showed ambulances attended 790,294 incidents in December, which also made it the busiest month on record and it was a 5.3% increase from the same month the previous year.

About 10,000 callouts were to the most serious, life-threatening cases - again the highest number recorded in a month and a rise of 16.6% from the previous year.

Overall in 2019, there were 1.2 million more attendances at A&Es than in 2018 - a 4.8% rise.

This is an increase of 14.2% in three years, according to NHS England.Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: "A&Es across the country are currently very busy - in 2019 we treated over a million more patients in our A&Es than the previous year.

"We have got more hospital beds open than last winter, but flu has come early and is around twice as high as this time last year."

"The continued increase in people's need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government's commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years," he added.