Record number of people in England waiting more than 12 hours in A&E

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan has a special report on an NHS buckling under numerous pressures

A record number of people in England waited more than 12 hours in A&E in December - triple the operational standard, new NHS data reveals.

The latest figures from NHS England paint a bleak picture of the health service's emergency care, with average ambulance response times to call-outs in England last month the longest on record, though the number of people on the waiting list has fallen slightly.

December saw 54,532 people waiting longer than 12 hours in A&E, the highest total in records dating back to August 2010 and up 44.1% from 37,837 in November.

The number waiting at least four hours also hit a new record high of 170,283 in December, up 18.3% from 143,949 the previous month.

A total of 65.0% of patients in England were seen within four hours in A&Es last month, down from 68.9% in November - the worst performance on record.

One-year-old George, sat in an A&E corridor for nine hours. Credit: ITV News

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The operational standard is that at least 95% of patients attending A&E should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, but this has not been met nationally since 2015.

The average response time in December for ambulances in England dealing with the most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was 10 minutes and 57 seconds.

Ambulances in England took an average of one hour, 32 minutes and 54 seconds in December to respond to emergency calls such as burns, epilepsy and strokes.

This is the longest on record and well above the target of 18 minutes.

Response times for urgent calls, such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes, averaged four hours, 19 minutes and 10 seconds – again, the longest on record.

The target standard response time for urgent incidents is seven minutes.

The chaos in the health service was underlined by the experience of 90-year-old Eunice, who was resuscitated despite having a 'do not resuscitate order'. She had been taken to hospital in an ambulance with a chest infection and had been left alone in a bay for nearly 24 hours, her granddaughter said.

"It is a mess, even from one department to the other... they said they weren't informed she'd be resuscitated in A&E. How is that even happening?" Laura Smith told ITV News.

Eunice was resuscitated despite orders not to after a lengthy wait in A&E. Credit: ITV News

NHS England said staff were responding to record A&E attendances, 999 calls and emergency ambulance call outs as the ‘twindemic’ lead to unprecedented levels of respiratory illness in hospital.

The most serious emergency (category one) ambulance call outs in December were at the highest on record at 101,099 - almost a fifth higher than the previous record of 85,392. Call handlers answered more 999 calls in December 2022 than ever before. The 1,014,489 calls made was up a one fifth compared to pre-pandemic numbers, which stood at 845,524 in December 2019.

The 'twindemic' also put pressure on beds, the NHS said. There were 7,273 beds taken up by Covid patients on average in December and a further 2,925 flu patients.

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In December 2021, there were just 33 flu patients in hospital, and 7,055 beds occupied by patients admitted with Covid.

In another record, 264,391 urgent cancer referrals were made by GPs in England in November, the highest number in records going back to 2009.

The proportion of cancer patients in England who saw a specialist within two weeks of being referred urgently by their GP increased from 77.8% in October to 78.8% in November but was still below the 93% target.

Hannah Houghton died after waiting 11 hours for an ambulance. Credit: ITV News

Meanwhile, some 1,423 people in England are estimated to have been waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment at the end of November.

This is down slightly from 1,907 at the end of October and is well below the peak of 23,778 in January 2022.

The government and NHS England set the ambition to eliminate all waits of more than two years by July 2022, except when it is the patient’s choice or for complex cases requiring specialist treatment.

An estimated 406,575 people in England had been waiting more than 52 weeks to start routine hospital treatment at the end of November, NHS England said.

This is down from 410,983 at the end of October and is the first month-on-month fall since February last year. The government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.

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The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has fallen slightly from a record high.

An estimated 7.19 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of November, NHS England said.

This is down from 7.21 million in October, which was the highest number since records began in August 2007.

It comes a day after up to 25,000 ambulance workers walked out on strike in a dispute with the government over pay.

More strikes are scheduled, with nurses due to walk out next Wednesday and Thursday, and another ambulance strike the week after, on January 23.

A record average of 14,069 hospital beds per day last week in England were occupied by people ready to be discharged, NHS figures show.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

NHS National Medical Director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “As staff responded to record A&E attendances, 999 calls and emergency ambulance call outs as the ‘twindemic’ lead to unprecedented levels of respiratory illness in hospital, they also continued to deliver for patients with more people than ever before receiving diagnostic tests and cancer treatment.

“These figures show just how hard our staff are working, not only in the face of extreme pressure but also in bringing down the Covid backlogs and checking more people for cancer than ever before in one month.

 “The NHS will keep its foot on the accelerator to continue to make progress on the Covid backlog and hospitals have today been asked to ensure anyone waiting longer than 18 months has their treatment booked in before March.

“While services continue to be pressured, it’s important the public continue to play their part by using the best services for their care – using 999 in an emergency and otherwise using 111 online and by getting their vaccinations if eligible.”

Downing Street has declined to say how long A&E waits have to get before the government calls it a crisis.

Asked the question, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “I think the public would want us to take action on this rather than focus on the definitions.

“I think no-one has any doubt about the huge pressure our NHS is under. It’s why we are acting right now, and indeed it’s why we invested significant sums in advance of this winter to mitigate some of these pressures.”

Asked when the public can expect to see ambulance response times return to acceptable levels, the official said the NHS has already released plans on addressing the issues, with two more to be published shortly.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the NHS was "in the biggest crisis in its history".

“The terrifying truth is that patients in an emergency can no longer be sure the NHS will be there for them.”

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “Corridor care appears to have become the norm. Some nurses are being booked to work in hospital corridors, others are being asked to buy Ikea hooks so intravenous drips can be attached to the corridor wall, and some patients are having cardiac arrests because of mistakes made using cumbersome oxygen cylinders to treat them.”

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