New NHS data reveals how best to avoid A&E waits

·4-min read

Not a single NHS Trust in England out of 111 met A&E waiting time targets during the year from April 2021 to March 2022.

It's the first time on record that more than 5% of people waited more than four hours to be seen in every part of the country.

Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust came closest - 94.3% of people were seen within four hours - followed by Yeovil District Hospital in the South West and Homerton Healthcare, based in Hackney in east London.

Nearby Barking, Havering & Redbridge, also in east London, performed worst. Nearly two thirds of people - 100,000 out of 157,000 - waited more than four hours to be seen after attending A&E there.

More than half of people at A&Es within Norfolk & Norwich and Royal Cornwall Hospitals had waits longer than four hours.

Find out more about how your local NHS Trust is performing: NHS tracker postcode search

Because of the different ways that NHS data is produced across the four nations that make up the UK, it can often be difficult to compare performance across the less detailed figures that are released each month.

The new figures show that people in Northern Ireland use A&E services more than those in any other UK nation, and waiting times in Scotland are shorter than those elsewhere.

When is the best time to go to A&E?

In general, people are waiting longer than ever to be seen in A&E. In fact the number of waits longer than four hours last year was higher than the total recorded in the four years from April 2012 to 2016, and the number of waits over 12 hours was higher than the total recorded from April 2014 to 2018.

That's despite the total number of A&E attendances in 2021-22 being at their lowest level since 2017-18, other than the pandemic affected 2020-21.

Read more: New NHS data reveals decade of decline under Tories that Liz Truss must reverse

However, there are times you can arrive and still be hopeful of a short wait. If you wake up feeling ill you might be better off rushing to A&E first thing rather than waiting around until lunchtime to see if you start feeling better.

A third of people who arrive between 8 and 10am are seen within two hours, while three quarters are seen within four.

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That gets steadily worse through the day - more than half of people turning up between midnight and 5am had to wait more than four hours.

Part of the reason for this may be because people who attend A&E late at night are more likely to be in a serious condition which requires complex assistance and takes longer to treat.

An NHS spokesperson said: "These statistics are yet another reminder of the pressures NHS staff have faced and continue to, with record levels of attendances at major A&E departments last year, alongside significant levels of COVID in hospitals and the highest ever number of the most serious ambulance callouts this summer.

"With the NHS likely to face another busy winter, we have announced plans to boost capacity across services including the recruitment of more call handlers, whilst also encouraging those eligible to get their COVID and flu vaccinations as soon as possible.

"It remains vitally important that people continue to come forward for care when they need it by using 111 online or by calling 999 in life-threatening cases."

Who relies on A&E the most?

People who live in the most deprived areas use accident and emergency centres almost twice as often as those in the richest parts of the country.

There were just over three million A&E visits in the year from April 2021 to March 2022 among the 5.6 million people in the most deprived 10% of the country, compared with 1.5 million from the best-off 10%.

People from black or Asian backgrounds were more likely to go to A&E than people of white or mixed heritage. This trend has been similar for several years.

Sunder Katwala, director of integration, immigration, identity and race thinktank British Future, said the numbers could be affected by the age profile of the different groups, particularly for people of mixed heritage who are more likely to be younger.

What are people using A&E for?

The data also reveals which are the most common complaints that people come to A&E for, as well as the numbers behind some of the more unusual ones.

Nearly 800 people went to A&E complaining of hiccoughs in the year to the end of March 2022, while more than 150 had frostbite.

Ears (38,000 people) topped the "Part of the body something was most likely to be trapped in" league table for the year, followed by mouth (24,000), nose (14,500), vagina (5,265) and last but not least rectum (1,562).

The most common complaints were limb injuries and abdominal or chest pains.

Shortness of breath was the first of the complaints not related to injury or pain. Unfortunately it is not possible with the currently available data to compare these figures against those from pre-COVID years.

The Data and Forensics team is a multi-skilled unit dedicated to providing transparent journalism from Sky News. We gather, analyse and visualise data to tell data-driven stories. We combine traditional reporting skills with advanced analysis of satellite images, social media and other open source information. Through multimedia storytelling we aim to better explain the world while also showing how our journalism is done.

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