Ambulance response times rise and NHS waiting lists reach all-time high, latest figures show

ITV News Health Editor Health Morgan reports on the 'unprecedented demand' straining a hospital trust in Southampton

Ambulance response times have got significantly worse and hospital waiting lists are at an all-time high as the NHS faces "huge pressure" in England, new figures show.

Data for June shows ambulances took an average of 51 minutes and 38 seconds to respond to emergency calls such as heart attacks and strokes.

In May the figures were 39 minutes and 58 seconds - well above the target of 18 minutes.

Once they reached A&E, 22,034 patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be admitted, NHS England performance figures showed.

The data comes as a Royal College of Nursing survey found 63% of staff reported emergency care taking place in settings such as hospital corridors and waiting rooms rather than on wards.

Meanwhile, waiting lists for routine hospital treatment have risen to a new record high of 6.6 million, at the end of May - up one million on the month before.

The number of people waiting more than a year to begin hospital treatment rose to 331,623 in the same month, the figures show.

Miriam Deakin, interim deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, told ITV News the latest figures present "a very worrying picture" for the time of year.

"With the country now in the grip of a heatwave, hospitals and ambulance services especially are already feeling the heat from levels of demand normally witnessed in winter," she said.

More than 13,000 people are currently in hospital with Covid – up by almost half in less than a month - and on one day in July almost 27,000 NHS staff were absent with the virus.

"There is huge pressure on beds, we have more than 100,000 staff vacancies across the NHS currently, and a lack of social care capacity means that hospital patients can't be discharged as soon as they could be to recover closer to home," Ms Deakin added. 

NHS England said staff faced "continued challenges" discharging patients into community and social care settings, which increased the pressure on ambulances left queuing up outside busy A&E departments waiting to admit patients.

Figures show that more than half of patients fit for discharge in June remained in hospital - an average of 11,590 patients each day.

Data from the annual GP Patient Survey on Thursday also found patients are putting off booking GP appointments because they find it too difficult.

Some 72% of patients in England said they had had a good experience of their GP practice early in 2022, down from 83% the previous year and 82% in 2020.

Latest NHS waiting times

  • Ambulances are taking an average of nine minutes and six seconds for most serious calls - the national target is seven minutes

  • Average ambulance wait times are at 51 minutes and 38 seconds for emergency calls such as heart attacks and strokes - 33 minutes longer than the 18-minute target

  • 22,034 A&E patients had to wait more than 12 hours in June - up from 19,053 in May

  • 130,109 A&E patients waiting at least four hours in June, up from 122,768 in May

  • 331,623 people waiting more than a year to begin hospital treatment

  • More than 400,000 people waiting longer than six weeks for key diagnostic tests

More encouragingly, NHS England said 2.1 million diagnostic tests were carried out in May and this was the most checks ever for that month.

Figures also showed 242,691 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in May - up from 204,818 referrals in April.

It said this is the highest number of urgent cancer referrals made by GPs in the month of May, in records going back to 2010.

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: "There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising Covid admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.

"The latest figures also continue to show just how important community and social care are in helping to free up vital capacity and NHS bed space – supporting those in hospital to leave when they are fit to do so, which is also better for patient recovery."

The government said on Thursday that it is preparing for a "surge" in demand on the NHS and other services due to the expected heatwave.

Ahead of a Cobra meeting to discuss a plan for the heatwave, the prime minister’s official spokesman said there were “tried and tested” plans in the NHS for increasing staffing in relevant areas.

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