Number of 12 hour waits ‘staggering and simply unacceptable’ – SAM past president

The latest NHS performance data released today (14 March) showed, among other things:

  • 71.3% of patients were seen within four hours in all A&E Departments in February 2024 compared with 70.8% in January 2024 and 71.5% in February 2023.
  • There were 139,458 four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission this month. The daily average in February 2023 was 4,534, while in February 2024 this has increased to 4,809, a 6.1% increase. Of these, 44,417 were delayed over 12 hours.
  • The number of referral to treatment (RTT) pathways where a patient was waiting to start treatment at the end of January 2024 was 7.6 million.
  • The total number of patients waiting six weeks or more from referral for one of the 15 key diagnostic tests at the end of January 2024 was 414,400. This was 26.2% 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.

Dr Tim Cooksley, immediate past president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “The appalling experience patients and staff in acute care are suffering daily is reflected in the enormous number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for a bed. 

“These are vulnerable, often older, patients who are being subjected to degrading corridor care and inevitable harm despite the best efforts of staff. 

“A total of 44,417 patients – up 22.6% on the same time last year – waited more than 12 hours which is staggering and simply unacceptable.

“The fundamental problems of insufficient workforce and capacity continue to dominate and these need long-term investment alongside the essential transformation changes outlined in papers by medical colleges and specialist societies.

“There are tremendous short-term efforts being put into meeting the 76% four-hour target for March.

“While this is important, projects and changes that transiently support an improvement in data by processing less urgent cases while the sickest and most vulnerable patients wait longer is clinically illogical and will ultimately cause greater harm. 

“Such projects may also see a dip in performance in April which is counterproductive. 

“There is no short-term exit from this crisis. Hard decisions and investment lie at the heart of the transformation that patients and staff so desperately need.”