An extra million patients visited emergency departments last year due to strikes, record waiting times for routine care and problems reaching a GP, figures show.
Health leaders say people have turned to A&E because it is a part of the NHS where they know the ‘lights are on’ and they will be seen.
But the surge in demand meant more patients waited longer than the four-hour target before being treated, admitted or discharged.
According to NHS Digital, there were 25.34 million visitors to A&E in England in 2022/2023, an increase of 4 percent on the 24.37 million in 2021/2022.
About 29.2 percent of patients spent more than four hours in A&E in 2022/2023, compared to 23.3 percent the year before.
A million extra patients went to A&E last year due to strikes, record waiting times for routine care and problems reaching a GP, figures show
Strikes by NHS doctors have been partly blamed for fueling the rise in emergency attendances
Meanwhile, a record 1,789,130 ??patients spent more than 12 hours in A&E – an 80 per cent increase in a year and a 491 per cent increase since 2020/21.
The figures also show that patients in the poorest areas of the country are almost twice as likely to go to A&E as patients in the richest areas.
The figures were released yesterday as trainee doctors left hospital for the second day in a row. They will also strike again today.
The junior doctors provided emergency care on Wednesday, but did not spare emergency care yesterday and today.
Nearly 1 million routine appointments and operations have been canceled since December as a result of the NHS industrial action, with waiting lists now at a record 7.7 million.
It has led to patients coming to the emergency room in pain after experiencing delays in their care.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents healthcare organisations, said: ‘A&Es have been under enormous pressure for years, with people naturally gravitating towards ‘where the lights are on’ and where they know they will be seen in a relatively short period of time.
‘But it’s not just emergency departments that are under pressure and that’s the problem.
‘With GP practices and primary care also facing huge demand, we know that patients can turn to urgent care if they struggle to get a GP appointment at a time that suits them.
‘In addition, we have an aging population with increasingly complex needs, a neglected and underfunded social care sector, and an elective care waiting list that currently stands at 7.7 million, all of which impacts on emergency departments that provide a safety net for the entire system.
‘For example, many people on waiting lists may develop complications in their condition and therefore seek help at the emergency room.’
He added: ‘Last year’s data shows the scale of the impact that ever-increasing demand is having on emergency departments and patients, with more than 410,000 people waiting more than half a day to be admitted, compared to 98,000 the year before, and this is not the case. even from the moment of arrival, so a patient could have waited much longer.
“But with too few staff, beds or capacity and availability in alternative services, healthcare leaders can’t do much.
‘This level of demand is unsustainable, so we need to focus more on prevention and community care resources to alleviate some of the pressure, keep patients healthy and out of hospital, and enable them to receive care closer to home. ‘
Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, the patient watchdog, said: ‘People are left waiting for many hours for care, often in crowded waiting rooms, with little or no information about when they will be seen.
‘However, people receiving care for a life-threatening illness or injury still had confidence in the quality of care.
‘Undoubtedly emergency services have been under unprecedented pressure in recent years due to the pandemic, industrial action, record waiting times for hospital treatment and difficulty accessing GP care.
Separate data for emergency departments also showed patient care plummeted in August as emergency departments faced their busiest summer yet. Just under three-quarters of emergency department visitors (73 percent) were seen within four hours in August, compared to 74 percent in July. NHS standards require 95 percent to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours
“People will go to A&E when they have nowhere else to go, leading to more treatment and care because they can’t get help sooner.”
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said: ‘These figures show that trusts are working incredibly hard to respond to rising demand by seeing more patients than ever before.
‘This is remarkable given the relentless pressure on emergency medicine and the wider sector.
‘However, demand continues to exceed capacity, causing too many patients to wait longer for care and treatment.
‘Shortages of staff, beds and equipment, as well as the need for good investment in the NHS estate, social care and more preventative support, are putting the healthcare system under alarming levels of stress.
‘Strikes also increase the pressure. By the end of this week, more than a million patients will have their appointments and procedures postponed due to industrial action.
“This is incredibly painful for everyone involved as trust leaders and their staff are unable to provide patients with the timely, high-quality care they deserve.”