UK
02/11/2013 18:17 GMT

Doctors Warn Of 'Worst Winter' Ahead In Hospitals

Alamy

Leading doctors have warned of an impending winter crisis in the NHS as figures reveal a 43% increase in the number of people waiting more than four hours to be seen in A&E departments compared to two years ago, the Guardian reports.

There has also been an 89% jump in the number of "trolley waits" of four to 12 hours.

The leader of Britain's A&E doctors, Cliff Mann, expressed grave concern over the cold months ahead.

"All the worrying indicators are up already. And they seem to indicate that this winter will probably be worse than last winter, which was the worst we have ever had, a tipping point for the NHS's delivery of acute care."

Mann added: "It's not chaos in emergency departments, but it is a crisis. Colleagues at hospitals report that there are almost daily instances in most A&E departments of patients facing extended trolley waits."

The inability to move patients elsewhere, even when they have been declared fit to leave hospital is proving a major problem.

"That could be the lack of transport to get a patient from an acute hospital to a bed in a community hospital, or the fact that there's nowhere for the patient to go," said Mann. "People call it 'bed blocking', but it's not the patients who are blocking the system; it's the system blocking the patients".

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know the NHS is under increasing pressure, but A&E departments have still been seeing 95% of their patients within four hours since the end of April. This is testament to the hard work of staff. More work needs to be done, so we are investing £500m over the next two years to help A&E departments through winter. Longer term, our £3.8bn integration fund will focus on joining up health and care services, keeping people healthier and treating them closer to home."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused ministers of having "left the NHS on the brink of its most dangerous winter in years."

"These worrying new figures expose the intense pressure that England's A&Es and hospitals are under. Too many are already sailing dangerously close to the wind, and that is before the winter has even started. A&Es suffered their first summer crisis in living memory, with thousands more patients stuck in queueing ambulances and on trolleys in corridors, said Burnham."

Mark Porter, the leader of the British Medical Association, called for at least a halt to the fall in NHS bed numbers and, controversially, a rethink of the NHS's £30bn "efficiency drive".

"We have all the symptoms of a system under pressure; that's what these new figures show. While we have this, it would be foolish to pursue a policy of still constraining resources in the acute sector. We are in the middle of the third year of huge cuts in acute hospitals' budgets," said Porter.

In September, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, admitted to Sky News to being "concerned" about the high demand for emergency care and the pressure staff are under.