Beast from the East, flu and norovirus 'to blame for A&E waiting times crisis'

Martin Coulter
The previous worst figure was recorded in December: Getty Images

NHS England has defended a rise in A&E waiting times, citing the "perfect storm" of widespread flu and norovirus infections alongside severe weather conditions.

Waiting time performance in A&E departments hit a 14 year low last week, with just 85 per cent of patients being admitted, treated or discharged within four hours.

The previous worst figure was recorded in December - 85.1 per cent - the same as the previous all time low set in January 2017.

A&E waiting times have been recorded since 2004.

A spokesman for NHS England said: "Staff have faced a perfect storm of appalling weather, persistently high hospital admissions due to flu, and a spike in norovirus.

"Despite these challenging conditions, the NHS treated more A&E patients within four hours this winter than the previous year."

But the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) is calling on patients to write to their local MP to demand action to address the "serious challenges" facing A&E departments.

It said the "unprecedented move" was in response to the figures, which also showed the worst ever performance of 76.9 per cent at major emergency departments.

RCEM President Dr Taj Hassan, said: "Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has now become normal and things are seemingly only getting worse for patients.

"Let's be very clear - the current crisis in our emergency departments and in the wider NHS is not the fault of patients.

"It is not because staff aren't working hard enough, not because of the actions of individual trusts, not because of the weather or norovirus, not purely because of influenza, immigration or inefficiencies and not because performance targets are unfeasible.

"The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis.

"We need an adequate number of hospital beds, more resources for social care and to fund our staffing strategies that we have previously agreed in order to deliver decent basic dignified care."

Parts of the UK are back on snow alert just days after the Beast from the East wreaked havoc across the country.

Forecasters have issued a severe warning for snow across a swathe of the Midlands and Wales, which is likely to cause disruption on the area’s roads and railways.

The yellow weather warning encompasses major cities including Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester and Bradford, as well as most of Wales.

Last week bitterly cold air from Siberia met Storm Emma, causing days of snowfall and freezing conditions in Britain.

Additional reporting by the Press Association