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Long A&E waits: 3m a year wait over four hours

From BBC - December 6, 2017

The number of long A&E waits across the UK has more than doubled in the past four years as hospitals struggle to cope with demand, BBC analysis shows.

Northern Ireland has the worst performance, although England has seen the fastest deterioration, the figures show.

Over 3m patients who visited UK A&Es waited over four hours in the past 12 months - up by 120% since 2012-13.

By comparison the number of visits has only risen by just over 7% to 26.9m.

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Doctors and nurses said the findings showed the NHS could no longer cope with what was being asked of it and patients were being put at risk.

And Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the A&E system had been "stretched to its very limits".

"Staff are working really hard. But we have reached a point where we cannot meet demand.

"Life-threatening cases are prioritised. But a crowded emergency department adds risk. We get delays to assessment, pain relief and antibiotics."

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Janet Davies agreed, describing the system as "full to bursting".

"Nursing staff in A&E units have been telling us for some time that they are working under intolerable pressure, and that it's hard for them to do more than firefight," she added.

How far short is the NHS of the target?

There are minor variations in the way the target is measured across the four nations, although they are considered broadly comparable.

The data compiled by the BBC shows a significant difference in performance against the four-hour target for treating or admitting patients.

In Northern Ireland, which has seen the biggest rise in people coming to A&E units, just 75% of patients were seen in four hours in 2016-17, whereas Scotland saw 93.9% - only marginally lower than the 95% target.

In fact Scotland is the only part of the UK performing better than it was four years ago.

England has seen the biggest rise in long waiters - a 155% increase. In Scotland the number of long waiters actually fell by 9%.

Regionally in England the West Midlands has the worst performance followed by the North West - patients visiting A&Es in those areas are more than twice as likely to wait over four hours than those in the North East, the best-performing region.

'You feel like you are failing patients'

The BBC has been speaking to a number of hospital staff this week about their experiences. Many wanted to remain anonymous given the political sensitivity about the performance of the health service.

Is there a solution?

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