MORE than 100,000 patients have been left in Accident & Emergency departments for more than 12 hours in recent months, amid a five-fold increase in delays, NHS data reveals.
The disclosures triggered warnings of a “serious degradation in patient safety” as the NHS is braced for a surge in A&E pressures over the long Easter weekend.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said waiting times were “going through the roof” with warnings that “the elastic is close to snapping” in some parts of the health service.
The statistics show that over a three-month period, 105,718 patients spent at least 12 hours at major casualty units - almost twice the figure last year, and a rise from 19,322 such cases four years ago.
The figures from NHS Digital covering all A&Es show 48,000 delays in January alone.
Yet health officials announced just 985 such delays - because NHS England only discloses the cases where a doctor has taken the decision to admit a patient to hospital.
Now the UK Statistics Authority is to investigate why health officials only publish such cases, amid concerns that a wealth of delays have gone ignored.
Patients’ groups said the latest disclosures covering the period from November to January - were “shocking” - amid warnings that A&E pressures could spike again over the four day weekend ahead, as GP surgeries close.
The NHS can stretch and stretch but now the elastic is close to snapping
Dr Chris Moulton, Royal College of Emergency Medicine
Experts said the provisional figures, published by NHS Digital, reflect major bed shortages across the NHS. A target to treat 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours, or else admit them to a hospital bed, has only been hit once since 2014.
Dr Chris Moulton, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “Waiting times in A&E are going through the roof. We have got an older population, with increasingly complex needs, but not enough beds so we are seeing more and more cases stuck in A&E.”
“It has been getting worse and worse for years but we are now seeing this rapid deterioration because it’s like an elastic band,” he said.
“The NHS can stretch and stretch but now the elastic is close to snapping,” the A&E consultant added, highlighting concerns that death rates are higher in crowded casualty units.
Liz McAnulty, Chairman of the Patients Association, said: “These figures are shocking, and reveal a serious degradation in patient experience and safety over a very short period of time.”
She expressed concern that the elderly were being forced to endure some of the worst delays, with previous figures showing the longest waits are among pensioners.
It comes amid fears of shortages of doctors this weekend, amid accusations that some locum doctors have run an “organised campaign” to hold the NHS to ransom by threatening not to work unless given higher rates of pay.
Agency doctors say new tax rules which came in last week and attempt to clamp down on tax avoidance will leave them worse off.
It comes as the NHS plans for an expected rise in A&E pressures over the long Easter weekend, with many GP practices closed for four days.
Jonathan Ashworth shadow health secretary, said the new figures were “astonishing and totally unacceptable”.
“Since Theresa May became Prime Minister the decline in standards for NHS patients has been unbelievable,” he said. “Behind each of these statistics is a patient suffering and in discomfort.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “We have just announced a series of measures for implementing the next steps of the Five Year Forward View aimed at relieving the intense pressures A&E departments have come under this winter. We expect these to have a direct and significant impact on the numbers of patients having long waits for a bed.”