Ambulance response times worst on record – and A&E waits hit new high

UK

Average ambulance response times in England last month were the longest on record – as more than half of people at major A&Es had to wait longer than four hours for the first time since records began in 2011.

New figures show 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.

This is the longest on record and compares with the target standard response time for urgent incidents of seven minutes.

The average wait times for Category 2 ambulance calls – emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes – was over an hour and a half for the first time (1hr 32m54s). The target for these calls is 18 minutes.

Key figures at a glance:

  • Average December response time for ambulances dealing with most urgent incidents, defined as calls from people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries, was 10 mins 57 secs. The target is seven minutes
  • Average wait times for Category 2 ambulance calls – emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes – was 1hr 33mins. The target is 18 minutes
  • 50.4% of patients attending major A&E departments not seen within the target time of four hours – the first time on record the figure has been more than half
  • NHS England waiting lists for routine procedures such as cataracts operations falls from 7.21m to 7.19m – although this is still the second highest figure on record
  • The proportion of cancer patients in England who saw a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral grows from 77.8% in October to 78.8% in November

The latest NHS England figures also showed a total of 50.4% of patients attending major A&E departments were not seen within the target time of four hours.

That is 4.9% worse than November and 19% worse than the equivalent month pre-pandemic, in December 2019.

The figures lay bare the extremely challenging winter the NHS is facing with record A&E attendance levels – and call handlers answering more 999 calls in December last year than ever before.

If you are an NHS worker and would like to share your experiences with us anonymously, please email NHSstories@sky.uk

More than a third (35%) of people attending all A&Es – including specialist centres and minor injuries units – waited longer than four hours. That is also the worst level on record and the only time that figure has been higher than a third.

It is 3.9% worse than November and 14.8% worse than December 2019.

Meanwhile, NHS England waiting lists for routine procedures such as cataracts operations fell for the first time since May 2020 – but the number of people waiting over a year for treatment is still 220 times more than before the pandemic.

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A total of 7.19m are waiting for NHS treatment – down from 7.21m.

The peak of 7.21m recorded in October was a rise of 3.3m on 3.95m in May 2020 – and followed 29 months of consecutive growth for the waiting list.

However, 7.19m is still the second highest number there has ever been on the waiting list at the end of a month since records began in 2007.

The number of people waiting more than two years fell from 1,907 to 1,423, the number waiting 18 months or more dropped from 50,124 to 48,961 and the number waiting more than a year fell from 410,983 to 406,575.

NHS tracker: See how your local trust is performing

The figures were revealed 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 set to walk out next Wednesday and Thursday, and another ambulance strike the week after, on 23 January.

The latest NHS England figures also showed a 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 grew from 77.8% in October to 78.8% in November – but was still below the 93% target.

Around 61% of the record 16,296 cancer patients who had their first treatment in November after an urgent referral by their GP had waited less than two months – an increase from 60.3% the previous month, but below the 85% target.

A record average of 14,069 hospital beds per day last week in England were occupied by people ready to be discharged – up from 13,134 the previous week and 11,795 at this point last year.

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