The NHS is on track to have its busiest summer on record with deadly consequences for patients as it battles a fresh surge of Covid, hot weather and a wave of staff absences, latest official data shows.
Heart attack patients waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance on average in England last month — nearly triple the NHS target — and more than 22,000 Britons queued for 12-plus hours in A&E before being seen.
Callouts to the most urgent cases have also risen by a third in recent months, with the average patient with a life-threatening emergency now waiting nine minutes for paramedics, compared to the seven-minute goal.
The health service’s monthly performance stats lay bare the crisis in emergency departments as medics wrestle with increasing Covid hospital and staff sickness rates, excess admissions caused by the heatwave and pandemic backlogs.
Ambulance services across England were this week put on ‘black’ alert amid the escalating crisis, signalling they are under ‘extreme pressure, and trust bosses have told sick Britons only to call 999 if their condition is truly life-threatening and to stop ringing asking where their ambulance is.
At the same time, the NHS backlog for routine ops grew from 6.4million to 6.6million in May, the latest month with data, meaning one in eight people in England are now waiting for elective care, often in pain.
The number waiting more than a year has also risen to 331,000 and more than 8,000 long-haulers have been in waiting more than two years — despite a Government pledge to wipe two-year waits by the end of this month.
And just a quarter of people referred for diagnostic tests and scans were seen within the NHS’ six-week target in May — way below the 95 per cent standard set by the health service.
One in four nurses say they have witnessed patients being treated in corridors and waiting areas in recent months, leaving them vulnerable to substandard care.
Dr Sarah Scobie, from the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said the latest figures ‘indicate just how severely emergency care within the NHS is struggling and how that is putting patients with urgent and life-threatening care needs at risk.’
Heart attack patients waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance on average in England last month — nearly triple the NHS target. There were more than 300,000 category two callouts in June
Some 22,034 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in June from a decision to admit to actually being admitted, NHS England said. The figure is up from 19,053 the previous month, but still below a record of 24,138 in April, which was the highest for any calendar month in records going back to August 2010. The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission stood at 130,109 in June, up from 122,768 the previous month. A total of 72% of patients in England were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, down from 73% in May
At the same time, the NHS backlog for routine treatment grew from 6.4million to 6.6million in May, the latest month with data, meaning one in eight people in England are now waiting for elective care, often in pain
She added: ‘No matter the reason for calling an ambulance, patients face increasingly long and agonising waits for it to arrive.
‘People suffering from heart attacks or strokes are on waiting on average nearly three times longer than they should be.
NHS needs FORTY THOUSAND more hospital beds to return to pre-pandemic standards
NHS England needs 40,000 more beds by the end of the decade just to return to pre-pandemic standards of hospital care, a report warns.
The Health Foundation estimates it will cost the taxpayer up to £30billion to scale up capacity to meet growing demand for treatment.
People’s illnesses are expected to become more complex by 2030 as the population gets older and fatter.
This will mean patients require more treatment and longer hospital stays, increasing pressure on the health service.
The analysis found that over the past 30 years, hospital capacity in England has more than halved.
This has left the country with fewer beds per person than most developed countries, including Lithuania, Poland and Hungary.
For the health service to get back to pre-pandemic standards of care, the Health Foundation said the NHS needs a minimum of 23,000 to 39,000 extra beds by 2030.
It has also called for the expansion of controversial ‘virtual wards’, which involve monitoring patients remotely using mobile apps and gadgets that can check oxygen and blood pressure.
As well as having one of the lowest bed counts, England also has one of the highest levels of bed occupancy, with 89.6 per cent of beds filled in 2018.
Only Ireland (90.7 per cent), Canada (91.7 per cent) and Israel (92.3 per cent) have more beds taken up.
‘Throughout June, it has become clear we are in another Covid wave.
‘This increase in demand, coupled most recently with the extreme heat we are seeing and the adverse effects on people’s health, will impact health professionals’ ability to work through a growing waiting list, now at 6.6m.’
There were 900,000 total ambulance callouts last month, marking the busiest June ever for services.
Ambulances took an average of 51 minutes and 38 seconds last month to respond to category two calls such as burns, epilepsy, heart attacks and strokes last month.
This was up sharply from 39 minutes and 58 seconds in May, and is nearly triple the national target of 18 minutes, which hasn’t been met since 2020.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation and Consultant Cardiologist, said: ‘Heart attacks and strokes are life-threatening emergencies, where every single minute matters.
‘That’s why today’s statistics are so shocking – people will needlessly die or live with disability as a result of dangerous delays in getting time-sensitive heart treatment.’
The average callout for the most urgent category one incidents — people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries — was nine minutes and six seconds, up from eight minutes and 36 seconds in May.
The target standard response time for urgent incidents is seven minutes. The record longest average response time for this category of incidents is nine minutes and 35 seconds, which was set in March this year.
Category three calls, such as late stages of labour, non-severe burns and diabetes, averaged two hours, 53 minutes and 54 seconds in June, up sharply from the two hours, nine minutes and 32 seconds it took in May.
The figures were described as ‘staggering’ by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the college, said: ‘Today’s data is once again another reminder of the depth of the crisis and pressures facing Urgent and Emergency care.
‘It is staggering that in this summer month, we are still seeing huge numbers of 12-hour waits (from decision to admit to admission) and nearly the worst four-hour performance on record.
‘Among staff there is huge discomfort in the quality of care being provided, it is distressing and incredibly difficult for them to deliver optimal care in these conditions and under this pressure.
‘For patients, there is fear and frustration at the length of time they may need to wait to receive emergency care. It is an appalling situation.’
On Wednesday, one of England’s top ambulance boss told sick Brits not to call 999 back to ask where their ambulance is because phonelines are so busy.
Martin Flaherty, manager at the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said: ‘We are urging people not to call 999 back to ask about an estimated arrival time unless the patient’s condition has changed.
‘This keeps the line free for someone who may need urgent assistance.’
Some 22,034 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in June from a decision to admit to actually being admitted, NHS England said.
The figure is up from 19,053 the previous month, but still below a record of 24,138 in April, which was the highest for any calendar month in records going back to August 2010.
But emergency medics say NHS England figures are a ‘gross under-representation’ of the actual crisis because of how they are recorded.
The Office for National Statistics ( ONS ) weekly infection survey found more than 2.7million Britons were infected with Covid in the last week of June
Latest data shows there were 1,848 Covid admissions across England each day by July 10, which was 23 per cent higher than the previous week. Week-on-week growth has slowed significantly in recent weeks, coming down from 43 per cent in late June, in a promising sign
MailOnline analysis shows how the rate of severe illness from Covid has fallen over time. At the beginning of the pandemic, one per cent of all people infected with the virus (based on the Office for National Statistics infection rate) required mechanical ventilation within two weeks. But most recent NHS bed occupancy rates show just 0.015 per cent of those infected are admitted to an ICU bed – 100 times fewer than the start of the pandemic
NHS nurses are being banned from drinking WATER on hospital wards amid heatwave
Nurses are being banned from drinking water because senior managers wrongly believe it poses an infection risk.
It comes as the UK grapples with a heatwave that threatens to send temperatures above 40C for the first time ever.
A survey of nurses found almost four in 10 had been forbidden by senior managers from drinking while working in areas like wards.
The main reason for nurses not being allowed water, or having their bottles thrown away in their station, is the age-old belief it is against ‘infection control policies’.
But no such guidance exists, NHS bosses confirmed today, despite the same issues cropping up every heatwave. There is no proof drinking water from bottles or cups poses an infection risk.
Nurses have also been told off for drinking on wards because it looks unprofessional in the past.
Amid the current heatwave, nurses say they’ve also been forbidden them from using fans to keep cool. The reason for this ban is unclear.
Ambulance crews desperate to cool down have posted images of them plugging in aircon units while queuing outside hospitals waiting to handover patients.
Temperatures are only set to soar over the coming days, with the mercury predicted to exceed 35C (95F) from Sunday to Tuesday in parts of England.
Nurses have also said staffing shortages, caused by a spike in virus infections, means they were struggling to take a break and get enough water.
NHS England has said trusts should allow nurses to drink at their workstations — not just their breaks — but did not comment on if they were allowed to use fans.
The number waiting at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission stood at 130,109 in June, up from 122,768 the previous month.
A total of 72.1 per cent of patients in England were seen within four hours at A&Es last month, down from 73 per cent in May.
The operational standard is that at least 95 per cent of patients attending A&E should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, but this has not been met nationally since 2015.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said: ‘There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising Covid admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.
‘The latest figures also continue to show just how important community and social care are in helping to free up vital capacity and NHS bed space – supporting those in hospital to leave when they are fit to do so, which is also better for patient recovery.’
A poll of 20,000 nurses by the Royal College of Nurses found one in four (27 per cent) of its members had witnessed patients being treated in ‘inappropriate’ areas recently, including corridors and waiting rooms.
Some patients were being left with no buzzers, curtains or privacy as a result.
Meanwhile, the number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has also risen to a new record high. A total of 6.6million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of May.
This is up from 6.5million in April and is the highest number since records began in August 2007.
The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment in England stood at 331,623 in May, up from 323,093 the previous month.
The Government and NHS England have set the ambition of eliminating all waits of more than a year by March 2025.
A total of 8,028 people in England were waiting more than two years to start routine hospital treatment, down from 12,735 at the end of April.
But it is still more than three times the 2,608 people who were waiting longer than two years in April 2021.
The Government and NHS England have set the ambition to eliminate all waits of more than two years, except when it is the patient’s choice, by July this year.
Fiona Myint, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘Whether it’s winter pressures in the middle of summer or heatwaves we’re wrestling with, demands on hospitals keep growing.
‘We’ve made progress on the longest waiters, but the total waiting list just gets larger month by month.’
It comes amid a fifth wave of Covid infections across Britain, with 2.7million (one in 24) people estimated to have been infected in the most recent week.
The rise of two mild but highly infectious Omicron sub-strains have caused daily Covid hospital admissions to rise to a near 18-month high, but only a fraction of these are primarily sick with the virus.
The majority are known as ‘incidental’ cases — patients who went to hospital for a different reason but happened to test positive.
Deaths and ICU admissions have remained broadly flat, despite the rise in cases and admissions.
Trusts have warned that the rising numbers are forcing swathes of their workforce off sick with the virus. Patients with Covid, even if not severe, need to be isolated and treated separately from other patients.