January was one of the most difficult months on record for A&E units in England, figures have confirmed.
This comes despite the mass cancellation of routine treatments to try to relieve the pressure.
The four-hour A&E target was missed for the 30th month in a row with 85.3% of patients seen in four hours, marginally better than the 85.1% in December.
Particular problems were experienced with trolley waits – more than 1,000 patients had to wait over 12 hours.
These are the waits patients who have come to A&E face when doctors decide they need to be admitted into hospital, but they cannot find them a bed.
They tend to be the most seriously-ill patients. Some 81,000 waited more than four hours for a bed – one in five of the 390,000 people who needed to be admitted.
Both the four-hour and 12-hour figures for trolley waits were the worst on record – figures go back to 2010.
But this comes amid rising numbers of A&E attendances.
The data from NHS England shows more than two million patients came to A&E during the month, a rise of more than 5% in a year.
Health bosses said with that in mind – and the high levels of flu that have been seen, it’s the worst outbreak since 2011 – the NHS has performed well.
Ian Dalton, chief executive at the regulator NHS Improvement, said it was a “testament” to the dedication of staff that performance had not declined further.
But Prof John Appleby, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said the health service was “creaking at the seams”.
He said the growing number of trolley waits showed “corridors had become the new emergency wards”.
A spokesperson for the Royal College of Surgeons said: “These figures show just how tough it was for hospitals this winter despite cancellation of planned surgery to free up capacity.
“Surgeons and other frontline NHS staff are working tirelessly to provide the best care possible to patients. But today’s figures show that these short-term measures are insufficient to meet NHS targets.”
Additional reporting by Clara Guibourg
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