Hospitals miss A&E target again

Hospitals have failed to hit the A&E target for the second week running as winter pressures set in, according to the latest figures.

4d6f7076-69ef-11e3-8352-0a0c0223000020131222T084850
Hospitals failed to hit the A&E target for the second week running as winter pressures set in, according to NHS England

Hospitals have failed to hit the A&E target for the second week running as winter pressures set in, according to the latest figures.

Data from NHS England shows 94.8% of people were treated within four hours of arriving at A&E against a 95% target.

The total is the same as last week and suggests winter pressures on the health service are starting to take hold.

The target is regularly missed by hospitals during the winter months due to factors such as more viruses circulating and higher admissions among older people.

The figures cover all centres - major A&Es, smaller minor injury units and NHS urgent care centres.

Waiting times are the longest in the major A&E departments, where only 92.2% were seen within four hours.

Two thirds of the 144 trusts with major units are missing the target, while major units have been below the 95% target since July.

The data also shows that the number of delays in ambulances being able to hand over patients to A&E stands at 4,913.

These are delays of more than 30 minutes and come after Dame Barbara Hakin, chief operating officer of NHS England, admitted to MPs earlier this week the NHS has a "significant problem" with ambulances queuing at A&E departments.

She was answering accusations that ambulances are "stacked outside A&E departments like planes".

Today's data also shows there were 1,202 hospital beds closed to norovirus, far lower than the 3,081 in the same week last year when the virus took an early seasonal hold.

According to Public Health England, the number of laboratory-confirmed cases is currently a third lower than the average number for the same period in the seasons between 2007/2008 and 2011/2012.

Dame Barbara said: "Frontline teams across the NHS have again shown how their hard work keeps waiting times down for patients.

"Despite the very significant pressure, the NHS continues to deliver a good service with 94.8% of those attending A&E treated, admitted or discharged within four hours - just below the 95% target and nearly a percentage point better than the figures this time last year.

"We must not be complacent but I'm pleased and proud of how staff are responding."

She added: "Although emergency admissions remain very high, they have dropped slightly this week rather than continuing to rise, which is encouraging. The number of cancelled operations remains stable and as expected. Ambulance handover delays are down by 30% compared to the same week last year when the weather was worse.

"However, we know delayed transfers continue to run higher than the equivalent period last winter. Although some of this increase can be attributed to data quality last year, it remains a concern. We have asked local health leaders to redouble their efforts on this issue so as to spot issues early and take action.

"The number of calls to NHS 111 that are answered within 60 seconds have again this week dipped below 95%, although satisfaction with the service remains high with 89% of callers satisfied or very satisfied with the service they received. We continue to watch the situation closely to ensure NHS 111 continues to provide a good service."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "This is to be expected as the NHS has never met its A&E target at this time of year.

"But, despite this being the busiest ever December so far, A&Es saw close to 400,000 patients within four hours - around 3,000 more patients than this time last year.

"Winter is always tough - and we know there could be more difficult weeks ahead.

"But the majority of patients continue to get the excellent care they deserve.

"That's because of the hard work of staff and we want to thank and support them in that."