Hospitals struggling as winter hits
Latest figures show that A&E units across the UK are struggling to hit their waiting time target as winter hits. Demands on the NHS tend to increase during the colder months because of illnesses like flu and norovirus. But with winter just getting under way, pressures are already reaching record levels.
In England weekly figures are released. The latest, for the first week of December, show 91.8% of patients were seen in four hours – the worst performance since April 2013.
In Wales and Northern Ireland the October figures showed just 84.7% and 80% of patients respectively were seen in time. Scotland performed better with 94% of patients in September seen within four hours but still falling shorter of their tougher target of 98%.
The simple answer is that more people are visiting A&E units. This is true for each corner of the UK, but as the data is most up-to-date for England it can be seen clearest there. Visits to A&E topped 436,000 the week before last – that is nearly 30,000 more than the same week the year before. But it is also the nature of the conditions patients are presenting with that makes a difference.
The best indication of this is the numbers that need to be admitted into hospital as an emergency. They are the most complex cases that often take A&E staff the longest to deal with and lead to beds being occupied. The numbers topped 110,000 the week before last – one of the highest figures ever recorded. At the same time, GP surgeries are struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of demand.
Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal comments: “This is likely to have a knock on effect with delays in treatment and diagnosis potentially leading to more claims. Since there has previously been an indication that more treatment errors are made at weekends and over Bank Holidays than during normal working weeks, we have to hope that there are no additional pressures put on the system by outbreaks of a seasonal virus over the Christmas and New Year period”.
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