New data indicates that the number of patients waiting for lengthy periods in Accident and Emergency has increased massively.
A report from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine indicates that there has been a 1,000 per cent increase in the number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours in A&E.
This rather startling figure is indicative of the extent to which the NHS is struggling with organisational difficulties.
It also successfully illustrates the importance of the debates currently taking place regarding the future of the health service, and indeed why these have been so contentious.
Above all else, the problem of extended waiting times indicates the extent to which the NHS is seriously underfunded.
But it also calls into question the plans of the government to expand the NHS into what it describes as a seven-day service.
When combined with the massive issue of junior doctors pay, and a serious lack of social care provision, it is clear that frontline services are currently struggling and suffering in the health service ahead of the busiest period of the year.
And this is not the first issue related to Accident and Emergency departments that has emerged in recent weeks.
It was also revealed recently that the critical first line of defence in the NHS was also suffering from an issue related to patients waiting on trolleys.
The number of patients waiting for longer than 12 hours in this situation had grown substantially over the same three-year period.
When one considers that A&E departments all over the country were besieged with patients last year, and to some extent crumbled under the pressure, it is clear that there could be massive issues this year as well.
Yet government policy now dictates that Accident and Emergency departments in the NHS are placed under increasing pressure to deal with patients.
The current target for A&E departments is to see 95 per cent of patients within four hours of arriving in the emergency department.
Yet official data indicated that the number of patients waiting at least four hours had nearly trebled, with some 304,276 cases seen in 2014/15.
The issue at least partly originates from an increase in the number of social care patients.
Not only is there a lack of provision for home care, but there is also a significant number of hospital beds unavailable, leading to a significant amount of bed blocking.
Indeed, the report from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine documented a 61 per cent increase in the number of patients taking up beds despite being well enough to leave hospital.
Head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Clifford Mann, commented on the issue, offering his opinion that this is an extremely serious situation.
“This is the minimum time they have been waiting – some of these waits could go on for days. These are vulnerable people, mainly elderly. The A&E department is not where they should be – they have a far greater chance of deteriorating there, suffering delirium, and an increased chance of death. No civilized society should be leaving people on trolleys for 12 hours or more. These figures are moving rapidly in the wrong direction – this is not something we can tolerate.”
Considering the extent of the issues related to Accident and Emergency, it seems absolutely inevitable that the NHS will once again experience a crisis over the winter months.