NHS told to come clean about A&E waiting times

ambulances - Aaron Chown/PA Wire
ambulances - Aaron Chown/PA Wire

The NHS will be forced to come clean about the true extent of A&E waits as part of plans to “fix” the NHS crisis.

The orders from the Health Secretary come as the Prime Minister announces 800 more ambulances and thousands more beds as part of a two-year plan to “recover” urgent and emergency care services.

New schemes to reduce avoidable admissions to hospital, and get patients out of wards sooner, with more rehab and physio offered at home, will also be rolled out.

Writing in The Telegraph, Steve Barclay said far more transparency was needed in order to tackle the problems of the NHS and protect its future.

NHS England has been ordered to publish full data, showing exactly how many people are enduring 12-hour waits in A&E.

Until now, officials have published monthly data which showed a record 55,000 such trolley waits in December. But the statistics only measure the point after a decision is taken to admit patients, with internal data, published far less often, suggesting the true number of people spending more than 12 hours in A&E may be five times as high.

The Telegraph has repeatedly highlighted the issue, with estimates that more than 1.5 million people endured such waits last year, while the UK Statistics Authority has ordered more regular publication.

Mr Barclay vows “to improve transparency and get access to better data” about the reality for patients in A&E, saying: “I want NHS managers and the wider public to have access to the same facts from the frontline, starting with publishing the number of 12-hour waits from the time of arrival in A&E from April.”

“Fixing our NHS is no mean task,” the Health Secretary writes, setting out changes to “break the cycle” of repeated winter crises and “hold true to that promise of an NHS that is always there for us.”

The plan, by the NHS and Government, commits to open “same day emergency care units” staffed by consultants and nurses, in every hospital with a major A&E ahead of next winter.

Such centres focus on swift assessment, diagnosis and treatment of those patients who would normally be admitted to a ward to wait for tests and scans.

Frontline capacity will be boosted by 800 new ambulances, including 100 specialist mental health vehicles, and 5,000 more permanent beds, many converted from stop-gap measures introduced this winter, backed by a £1 billion fund.

Mr Sunak said: “Cutting NHS waiting times is one of my five priorities. Urgent and emergency care is facing serious challenges but we have an ambitious and credible plan to fix it.”

“It will take time to get there but our plan will cut long waiting times by increasing the number of ambulances, staff and beds – stopping the bottlenecks outside A&E and making sure patients are seen and discharged quickly,” Mr Sunak said.

Health officials also promised to increase the number of emergency medical technicians, student and apprentice paramedics, with a full workforce strategy for the whole NHS expected this spring.

It follows warnings that A&E units and ambulance services are under unprecedented pressure.

Last month saw average waits of more than 90 minutes last month for heart attack and stroke victims in England.

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS has been under more pressure than I have ever known in my 25 years working in the service” pointing to a ‘twindemic’ of flu and covid.

Health officials said the strategy has three parts; boosting capacity, speeding up discharge from hospitals and reducing avoidable admissions.

The plan aims to improve the care of the most frail and vulnerable, with far more help delivered at home.

"Virtual wards" will provide round-the-clock monitoring for up to 50,000 patients a month, with patients given wearable devices which track vital signs such as temperature, heart rate, oxygen levels and heart rate and alert medical teams to any changes.

An expansion in community response teams aims to ensure that when frail elderly patients suffer a fall, they can be assessed and treated on the spot, instead of being automatically brought to hospital.

Latest NHS figures show around 13,000 beds - one in seven - are filled by patients who are assessed to be medically fit.

Pilot schemes will test new ways to get patients out of hospital sooner, with rehab and physio increasingly offered at home, rather than holding up a patient being discharged.

Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which has long campaigned for full trolley wait data to be regularly published, welcomed the plan, and the commitment to greater data transparency.