Michael Simmons Michael Simmons

A nightmare month for the NHS

(Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The NHS is struggling. In December, English A&Es saw their busiest month on record: 170,000 people waited more than four hours to be admitted and nearly 55,000 waited more than 12 hours. These are the highest figures ever recorded. Ambulance response times were their worst ever too: the average wait for emergency call-outs was 93 minutes.

Things are also bad in Scotland. Last night, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (the country’s biggest health board) ‘paused’ elective surgeries to focus on emergencies and cancer treatment. The NHS as Glaswegians knew it is simply no more. Wards are being converted into ‘flu zones’ in scenes many thought we’d left behind in the pandemic.

If the tide doesn’t turn soon, there’s no reason to believe something similar isn’t coming to England. What really terrifies doctors is all of this comes despite the health service having more money than ever, staffing numbers increasing in many specialities and a nation discouraged from using the service anyway. But, nevertheless, things still look bleak. Here’s everything we learned from this morning’s NHS England monthly figures:

  1. Emergency departments were busier than ever. Just under 2.3 million people turned up at A&Es in December – the highest figure since records began in 2010. Call handlers answered more 999 calls (over one million) than ever before too. This was a fifth more than they had in December 2019.
  1. A record number waited more than 12 hours in A&E. This graph just keeps shooting up. Some 55,000 patients waited more than 12 hours from the decision being made to admit them to actually being admitted. The real number waiting will be even higher because the clock doesn’t start while you’re waiting outside in an ambulance queue. Over 170,000 people waited more than the four hour target too and, when you include waits to be transferred or discharged, the number climbs to 700,000.

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