NHS England data published today revealed that A&E waiting times have hit a new record low.
Statistics show that 84.2% of patients were seen within the targeted four hours in all A&E departments in February, the lowest performance in the last 15 years.
The February figure is lower than what was reported in January, when 84.4% of patients were assisted within the four-hour target.
NHS England, who is considering scrapping the target, said the last time the health service met the recommended 95% standard was in July 2015.
Some 75.7% patients were seen within four hours in type 1 A&E departments, which is also the new low since this collection began, compared to 76.1% last month.
A growing number of people had to wait over four hours before being admitted to hospital last month, with the figure standing at 70,813 in comparison to 68,712 in the same month last year.
The number of emergency admissions fell since January. There were 506,000 emergency admissions last month, compared with 564,000 in January.
A controversial target
This might be the final collection on the flagship A&E target, as NHS executives are proposing alternative measures to monitor A&E performance.
NHS England announced on 11 March that alternative options ‘are worth exploring’ as the target only offers a ‘limited insight into patient care’.
Selected areas will soon start testing new access targets, which are set to give priority to patients who are suffering from stroke, heart attack, sepsis or experiencing a mental health crisis. They will be expected to receive care within one hour of arrival.
Commenting on the figures, Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘For hospitals to report the worst ever A&E four hour waits in the same week NHS England announced plans to abandon the target exposes the reality of nine years of austerity, understaffing and mismanagement of our NHS.
‘Today’s statistics will do little to allay frontline concerns that targets will be changed not on the basis of clinical consensus, but because of political pressure from Tory ministers.’
Commenting on today’s monthly NHS performance figures, The King’s Fund senior analyst Deborah Ward said: ‘Despite a mild winter, today’s figures reveal a hidden crisis in hospitals up and down the country. In February just 84.2% of patients were seen by A&E units within the four-hour target, the lowest level since this data was first collected.
‘We must not become immune to the reality that behind today’s figures are stories of people with urgent medical needs waiting too long to be treated. Whilst the NHS England’s clinically-led review of NHS Access Standards seeks to address some of these issues, changing existing targets and introducing new standards is not a panacea for improving patient care – without enough staff and resources to care for patients, targets both new and old will continue to be missed.’