London A&Es face ‘worst’ winter crisis with record waiting times

Huge rise in delays admitting patients for treatment as Sunak pledges ‘urgent action’

Health experts warned on Wednesday that the crisis in London’s A&E units was the “worst” they had seen with record waiting times and ambulances queuing outside.

Analysis of NHS figures by the Evening Standard found that paramedic crews in the capital lost the equivalent of 3.5 months as a result of handover delays in the week up to December 25, a rise of more than 12 per cent compared with a month earlier.

More than 7,150 Londoners waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E in November alone, an increase of 46 per cent in three months.

Amid growing warnings over the emergency care crisis, Rishi Sunak on Wednesday promised measures to ease the pressures on the health service. In a speech in London, the Prime Minister acknowledged: “I know there are challenges in A&E — people are understandably anxious when they see ambulances queuing outside hospitals. You should know we’re taking urgent action.”

He added that bed capacity was being increased by 7,000, with more hospital beds and people cared for at home, there was new funding to help discharge people into social care and the community, and “urgent” work was being carried out on plans for A&E and ambulances.

However, the scale of the crisis was laid bare by warnings from health experts.

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’s Fund think tank, told the Standard: “Every winter in the NHS is challenging, but I’ve never seen it this bad in my career. I’ve lost count of how many years I’ve been analysing A&E and ambulance wait times and I’ve never seen figures like this in London.”

Shadow health minister, Tooting MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, added: “I have been an emergency doctor for 17 years and this is the worst I have ever seen our NHS, which is a sentiment shared by most of my colleagues.”

A London spokesman for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said: “Emergency departments in London are in crisis. Patients face extremely long waiting times, that we know are associated with patient harm and patient deaths.

“In London, our departments are extremely full — this is because we are unable to move patients through the system. We cannot admit patients into beds, so patients are waiting for excessively long periods in corridors, on trolleys, on chairs, in unsuitable places waiting for a bed.”

The NHS in London said it was seeing “record demand for urgent and emergency care,” with a rise in flu and Covid hospitalisations.

A spokesman added: “We have, however, prepared for winter like never before with more beds, extra 111 call handlers, expanding the use of 24/7 control centres across the capital for urgent and emergency care and additional respiratory hubs, but with flu hospitalisations and Covid cases on the rise the best things you can do to protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated, if you’re eligible.”

A total of 216 London patients faced a wait of more than an hour to be transferred from an ambulance into A&E on December 23 — a jump of nearly a quarter (24.8 per cent) on the figure reported five weeks prior.

The target is for ambulance handovers to be completed within 15 minutes. Ambulance chiefs have warned that handover delays were leading to patients dying.

NHS England has instructed LAS paramedics to only wait a maximum of 45 minutes before handing patients who are stable over to A&E, so they are then free to respond to other call-outs.

A bad flu season has heaped further pressure on the London’s hospitals, along with industrial action by nurses and ambulance workers. A total of 310 flu patients were occupying hospital beds in the capital on Christmas Eve, a sharp jump from the 28 reported on November 20.

On Tuesday night Health Secretary Steve Barclay attributed the extreme pressures on the NHS to a combination of Covid, Strep A and flu. Senior MPs warned that the crisis-hit NHS “can’t keep up” with “phenomenal demand” and has too few staff to treat patients safely.

Steve Brine, Tory chair of the Commons health and social care committee, told of the “terrifying situation” facing Britain that the NHS will not be sustainable if far more is not done to prevent ill health. He told Times Radio: “The NHS is in a very serious situation. It is worse than last year.”