Figures released today by NHS England show that the four-hour A&E waiting time target has been missed by the widest margin since it was first introduced 10 years ago.
Many, including the GMB, the union for NHS and ambulance staff, have said that the figures are unsurprising and make clear that patients and staff are paying the price for the government’s failure to manage and invest sufficiently in the NHS.
Today’s figures adds to the unwelcome news yesterday that eight hospitals have been declared ‘major incidents’ as they struggle to meet demand.
Steve Rice, Chair of the GMB Ambulance Committee, said: “I have worked for the Ambulance Service for almost four decades and in this time I have worked under 17 Secretaries of State for Health. Over the last few years, time and time again warnings signs have been there that the service is at stretching point.
“Ambulance staffs have had one of the busiest Christmas and New Year periods and we are set to get even busier. The increase in waiting times means that we can’t hand patients over in A&E Departments. This means we can’t get back out on the road to get on with the job we do of saving lives.”
Since 2010, NHS A&E figures have deteriorated alarmingly. From October to December 2009, 97.8% of patients were seen in four hours. In contrast, today’s figures show that from October to December 2014, 92.6% of patients were seen in four hours.
While the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that the A&E target was tough, he conceded that the aim should not be to achieve them “at any cost.”
Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: “This crisis in A&E has its roots in the government’s cuts to social care and GP access and its disastrous decision to throw the NHS into the chaos of reorganisation.”
And further bad news for the NHS could be on the way as members of the ambulance service consider a 48 hour continuous strike at the end January.