This year’s NHS winter crisis has already begun as hospital beds are filling up and people face long waits in A&E departments across England.
Figures released today by the NHS revealed things look worse than last year, which then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the ‘worst ever winter’.
Experts and senior politicians warn things will only get worse over the Christmas period as the NHS faces up to its toughest winter yet.
Damning figures show one in 10 hospitals didn’t have a single bed free on at least one night last week.
And nearly 55,000 people were left waiting on hospital trolleys for more than four hours before being admitted to hospital, with 258 waiting 12 hours or more.
People being brought in by ambulances are being turned away at overloaded hospitals and 7,716 of them last week waited more than half an hour to get inside.
The first set of winter figures, released today by the NHS, revealed the situation already looks worse than at the same time last year, which then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said was the ‘worst winter ever’ (stock image)
NHS England and NHS Digital released the first of their winter situation reports today, prompting fears of another devastating season from health experts.
Last winter was called the ‘worst ever’ by then-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and there are signs this year will be even worse.
Figures covering the first week of December showed 14 out of 134 major hospitals spent at least one night with 100 per cent of their beds occupied.
Hospitals should have 15 per cent of their beds free at any time for the NHS to operate safely.
And cracks are beginning to show in A&E departments, which bear the brunt of huge numbers of patients flooding in in the colder months.
A total of 54,631 people were left waiting for more than four hours for a bed after doctors decided to keep them in hospital.
This is 12.1 per cent higher than last November and the number of people waiting more than 12 hours has more than doubled from 107 to 258.
NOVEMBER A&E WAITS WERE LONGER THAN LAST YEAR
Thousands more patients endured waits of at least four hours in A&E this November than during the same month last winter, data showed.
NHS figures revealed 54,631 patients weren’t seen within the target time – and 258 of them experienced waits of at least 12 hours.
In comparison, 48,730 patients were left languishing about in busy A&E departments during November 2017 – nearly 11 per cent less.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit last year’s was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.
The number of patients left waiting four hours to be seen in A&E climbed throughout the summer of 2017, before spiking between December and March last year.
And the same trend appears to exist for this winter, with the total having risen by around 5,000 people for every month since August.
The NHS figures also showed 87.6 per cent of patients who visited A&E across England in November were seen within four hours – the lowest monthly total since February this year, when Mr Hunt made the confession.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, described the NHS figures as ‘hugely concerning’ and said they ‘don’t bode well for the difficult months ahead’.
He said: ‘While Government remains paralysed by Brexit infighting, the NHS is struggling as a result of years of underfunding, cuts and staffing shortages.
‘Rather than their self-interest, Tory ministers must start prioritising patients’ interests by outlining proposals for the NHS this winter.
‘It would be totally unforgivable if patients suffered another winter crisis like the ones we’ve seen in recent years.’
Some 5,777 patients brought in by ambulance – one in every 17 – were kept waiting in the ambulance bay for between 30 minutes and half an hour.
And 1,939 ambulance patients – one in 50 – waited outside for more than an hour.
A&E figures for November also showed 258 people waited more than 12 hours to be treated, more than double the number for November 2017.
The NHS target is to see 95 per cent of all patients within four hours, but this figure was only 87.6 per cent in November – the lowest level since March.
‘The first set of winter statistics show the NHS already under tremendous strain and patients waiting longer and longer for care,’ said Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at health thinktank The King’s Fund.
‘Despite a mild start to winter and low flu levels, targets are still being badly missed… these figures show little slack in a system which is operating consistently in the red zone.’
The Health Foundation argued the figures show the NHS is ‘holding steady’ – despite missing its targets ‘across the board’.
Dr Becks Fisher, GP and policy fellow at the charity, said: ‘This reflects Herculean efforts on the part of NHS staff, who continue to work under significant pressure all year round.’
But she added: ‘With adverse weather, flu and vomiting viruses yet to fully hit, the NHS faces its toughest winter yet.’
ONE IN 10 HOSPITAL TRUSTS HAD NO FREE BEDS LAST WEEK
One in 10 NHS trusts had no free overnight beds on at least one day during the first week of December, official figures revealed today.
The health service’s own data revealed 14 trusts operated at 100 per cent occupancy between December 3 and December 9.
Two of those – London North West University Healthcare and Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals – were completely full the whole week.
The data was compiled in the NHS’ first weekly performance report of this winter, which tracks activity of all hospitals for every day.
Figures from all 134 trusts in England, which run hospitals, revealed the average bed occupancy was 94.1 per cent – significantly above the safe level.
Experts say that occupancy levels should not exceed the 85 per cent mark because above this can have serious health risks on patients.
Croydon Health Services was fully occupied on six of the days.
Four of the trusts – Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, Whittington Health, Northampton General Hospital and The Princess Alexandra Hospital – were 100 per cent full on two days during the week.
While the remaining seven trusts, King’s College Hospital, The Hillingdon Hospitals, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals, East Cheshire, Wirral University Teaching Hospital, Isle of Wight and Weston Area Health, had no free beds on just one day.
Wards are becoming increasingly occupied by frail elderly patients unable to go home due to cuts to social care.