Share of patients hit by long NHS waits in England five times higher than decade ago

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The share of patients in England waiting longer than four hours for emergency care in hospitals was five times higher last year than 10 years ago, official figures show.

The proportion of people facing long waits in accident and emergency departments across the UK rose sharply in the past decade, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

In England, 42.4 per cent of people waited more than four hours to be seen in A&E in September 2023, up from 8.1 per cent in January 2013, the ONS found.

In Scotland the figure rose from 11.7 per cent to 33.5 per cent over the decade. In Wales, it jumped from 15.6 per cent to 40.5 per cent.

Line chart of % showing The share of people waiting more than four hours in A&E has increased

The data underlines the mounting strain on the NHS as it grapples with a winter influx of patients, near record waiting lists and a protracted industrial dispute.

“What is clear is that all parts of the healthcare system have been experiencing heightened pressure over a sustained period,” said Rory Deighton, director of the NHS Confederation’s acute network. 

“Tackling this is crucial if we are to support the NHS from moving from one crisis to the next,” he added.

The NHS has a pledge to admit, transfer or discharge 95 per cent of patients within four hours of arrival in A&E but the data showed this had consistently failed to be met.

Junior doctors in England walked out for five days this week in the latest wave of action, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to agree a pay deal ahead of the general election expected later this year. The state of the health service will be a key issue for voters.

Line chart of % showing The percentage of A&E patients waiting longer than 4 hours has risen sharply in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland also registered a steep increase. The percentage of A&E attendances waiting longer than four hours almost doubled from 28.2 per cent in January 2013, to 56.6 per cent in September 2023. The data for Northern Ireland was not comparable with other UK nations.

“As well as committing to increase NHS capital spending and to fund the NHS long-term workforce plan, a key thing that will help is for the next government to agree to a short-term stabilisation plan during the first 12 months of parliament to help get performance back on track,” said Deighton.

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