‘Degrading corridor care and prolonged waits causing significant harm’ – SAM past president

The latest NHS performance data released today (08 February) shows, among other things:

  • 70.3% of patients were seen within four hours in all A&E departments in January compared to 69.4% in December 2023 and 72.5% in January 2023. The 95% standard was last met in July 2015.
  • There were 159,000 four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission in January which compares to 142,000 in January 2023. Of these, 54,300 were delayed over 12 hours (from decision to admit to admission) which compares to 42,800 in January 2023 (and 44,000 in December).
  • The total number of patients waiting six weeks or more from referral for one of the 15 key diagnostic tests at the end of December 2023 was 416,900. This was 26.8% of the total number of patients waiting at the end of the month against the operational standard of less than 1% of patients waiting six weeks or more.
  • Average ambulance response times across all four categories in December were longer than in all earlier months of 2023-24.
  • The number of referral to treatment (RTT) pathways where a patient was waiting to start treatment at the end of December 2023 was 7.6 million.

In response, Dr Tim Cooksley, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Degrading corridor care and prolonged waits causing significant harm is tragically and increasingly the expected state in urgent and emergency care. 

“A rise of COVID and flu cases last week saw many hospitals again enter critical incidents. 

“The fact remains there is simply insufficient workforce and capacity to meet the demands of an increasingly ageing population with multiple health issues and simply no resilience to cope with any excess strain.

“While the small increase in four-hour A&E performance is welcome, it is divorced from every day experience on the ground.

“For patients experiencing appalling conditions and staff working in persistently overcrowded areas, the suggestion things are improving will be bewildering.

“An increase of more than 10,000 patients waiting 12 hours compared to last month at a total of 54,300 – and compared to this time last year (42,800) – lays bare the reality of the current situation.

“The recent BMJ commission called for a national health and social care emergency to be declared immediately following the next election and SAM has called for national major incident-type approaches in similar situations. 

“This is the severity of the crisis we face and it is of grave concern that a period of pre-election stasis will cause further delays to the transformation needed; inevitably leading to further patient harm and continued haemorrhaging of clinical staff.
The Times Health Commission, which reported its findings on Tuesday, outlines some important policies to reduce future demand in similar ways medical colleges and societies have been pushing for in recent months. 

“These are essential so that the NHS survives and evolves to deliver improved health through greater prevention of illness. That will take at least a decade to bear fruit if enacted now and we cannot allow a further decade of despair in hospital care for our sickest patients.”