Leak shows full extent of NHS winter crisis

Record numbers of patients are facing long waits in A&Es as documents leaked to the BBC show the full extent of the winter crisis in the NHS in England.

Nearly a quarter of patients waited longer than four hours at A&E last week with just one hospital hitting its target.

And huge numbers also faced long waits for a bed when A&E staff admitted them into hospital as emergency cases.

There were over 18,000 “trolley waits” of over four hours last week.

Some 485 of them were for over 12 hours – treble the number seen during the whole of January last year.

The figures come from a document compiled by NHS Improvement, one of the regulators in England, and show this winter is proving to be the most difficult for a generation.

Since the start of December hospitals have only seen 82.3% of patients who attended A&E within the four-hour target.

That is the worst performance since the target was introduced in 2004.

The trolley waits are also at their highest ever levels.

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said what was being seen was not “ordinary winter pressures”.

“Trusts are really struggling,” he added.

It comes after the British Red Cross said over the weekend the NHS was facing a “humanitarian crisis” this winter.

Ministers have denied this is the case, with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying on Monday the health service was coping well given the increasing demands.

But he did suggest the four-hour target may have to be relaxed – it has not been met since July 2015.

He said there were growing number of patients attending A&E units with minor conditions and suggested in order to “protect” the four-hour guarantee in the future it may need to be only applied to those with urgent needs.

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