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February was the ‘toughest month EVER for the NHS’: A&E waits spiral to worst record low AGAIN as cancer treatment targets are missed for 37th month running, ‘shameful’ statistics show
- More people than ever are waiting more than four hours to be treated in A&E
- People waiting a month for treatment after cancer diagnosis is at all-time high
- Record numbers of people have to wait two months or more for cancer therapy
- Experts warn the NHS is crippling under pressure despite a ‘mild’ winter
Sam Blanchard Health Reporter For Mailonline
A&E waiting times have hit a new all-time low as the NHS has posted its worst ever figures for the second month in a row.
February was the ‘toughest month to date’ for the ‘overwhelmed’ health service, NHS bodies admitted today as figures show the dire state of waiting times in England.
Only 84.2 per cent of patients were seen within the NHS’s four-hour waiting limit in February – a further drop from the lowest ever 84.4 per cent in January.
The falling figure comes in the same week as the health service announced plans it could use to replace the four-hour benchmark it has failed to meet since 2015.
Other ‘shameful’ statistics show waits for cancer treatment are longer than ever, with record numbers of people waiting more than a month to start therapy.
And the NHS missed its target to treat people within two months of a doctor’s referral for the 37th month in a row.
The waiting list for all types of treatment has risen to 4.16million people – second only to 4.18m in October last year.
More than 220,000 of these people have been waiting for six months or more, and 36,000 of them for at least nine months.
NHS A&E departments try to see 95 per cent of their patients within four hours but the figure is now at its lowest ever level – just 84.2 per cent
The drop in people being seen within four hours at A&E means more than 15 per cent of patients – more than 70,000 people – waited longer than that in February.
Only two months of A&E figures have been published so far this year and both have been record-breakingly bad.
The number of patients A&E departments have treated within the four-hour time limit was 6.2 per cent higher than it was last February, yet hospitals’ performance is still falling.
And now cancer patients have been added to the mix – a higher proportion than ever (4.6 per cent) are waiting at least a month to have their first treatment after diagnosis.
There are also a record number of people (23.8 per cent) waiting for two months or more to be treated after an urgent referral from their doctor.
Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘For hospitals to report the worst ever A&E four-hour waits in the same week NHS England announced plans to abandon the target exposes the reality of nine years of austerity, understaffing and mismanagement of our NHS.
‘It’s especially shameful that we have also seen the worst performance on record for patients to be seen for cancer treatment within two months.
‘Behind each of these statistics is a patient waiting longer in pain and anguish.’
The NHS is now failing on six out of its eight cancer waiting time targets, The King’s Fund revealed.
Deborah Ward, senior analyst at the think-tank said: ‘Despite a mild winter, today’s figures reveal a hidden crisis in hospitals up and down the country.
‘We must not become immune to the reality that behind today’s figures are stories of people with urgent medical needs waiting too long to be treated.
‘Without enough staff and resources to care for patients, targets both new and old will continue to be missed.’
Hundreds of thousands of people were directly affected by long waits in February.
A total of 308,424 A&E visits lasted longer than four hours before the patient was admitted or discharged.
Some 3,321 people who started cancer treatment that month had already been waiting for at least two months since their GP urgently referred them to a hospital.
And 1,250 people starting cancer therapy had waited more than a month since they were told they needed treating for the disease – this number was almost double the previous month and rose above 1,000 for the first time ever.
The NHS’s target of beginning treatment in patients within 62 days of them being referred to a hospital has now not been met for 37 consecutive months.
Macmillan Cancer Support’s Dr Fran Woodard said: ‘More than 127,000 people have been left waiting too long to start vital treatment throughout that time.
‘Behind the numbers are real people who tell us how delays cause real anxiety for them and their loved ones at a time when they are already trying to deal with the many worries cancer is throwing their way.’
Parts of the NHS itself have admitted the health service is crumbling under pressure, saying it is ‘overwhelmed’ and that February was the ‘toughest month to date’.
NHS Providers, a trade association for hospital trusts, and the NHS Confederation, which represents leaders, both praised staff but said they were under crippling strain.
‘The resilience and dedication shown by staff to patient care throughout a very sustained period of pressure and demand is extraordinary,’ said NHS Providers’s Miriam Deakin.
‘But there is only so much that trusts can do when resources are already stretched to breaking point.’
The organisation’s website posted its comment under the heading ‘Toughest month to date for NHS as cancer and A&E standards fall’.
Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation added: ‘These statistics are further proof that, despite treating more patients than ever before, the NHS is being overwhelmed.
‘NHS staff are being placed under considerable pressure and everyone knows this cannot go on.’
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NHS crisis: A&E waits spiral to worst ever level AGAIN