A&E departments in March saw their worst waiting time performance since records began – the “clearest indication yet of the eternal winter we now face in the NHS”.
Hospitals have struggled this winter with particularly cold weather, including heavy snow, along with high rates of flu and norovirus.
But while performance would usually improve in the spring, a higher percentage of patients than ever had to wait four hours or more to be seen upon arrival at A&E departments in England.
Just 84.6% were seen within four hours overall, falling to 76.4% at major A&E departments.
The figures also show the number of NHS patients having to wait more than a year for treatment has gone over 2,000 for the first time since August 2012.
The data released by NHS England on waiting times for planned treatment reveals 87.9% of patients started treatment within 18 weeks, meaning the 92% target has not been met in two years.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “These stark figures – including a further drop in A&E performance and 5,000 delayed patient transfers – are the clearest indication yet of the eternal winter we now face in the NHS, and this should be a turning point in how we approach all planning from now on.
“As we settle into spring, hospitals remain under immense pressure, and I am unsure how on earth we are going to catch up with elective surgery given some non-urgent operations continue to be cancelled in parts of the country.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “As expected, these figures for a month ago confirm what was widely reported at the time, namely that during March the NHS continued to experience severe winter pressures.”