A&E waiting times still on the rise

25 Oct 01
Anecdotal stories of accident victims having to wait hours for treatment were effectively confirmed this week by an Audit Commission report that showed waiting times in hospital accident and emergency departments are getting longer.

26 October 2001

Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster, while reticent about which hospitals were the worst offenders, is threatening to bring in a policy of 'naming and shaming' if there is no improvement. 'We are almost certainly moving towards that system,' he said.

The public spending watchdog found that although the number of doctors working in casualty departments has increased by 10% since 1998, people are waiting longer to be seen. It estimates that patient numbers have risen by 1% a year over the same period.

Its report, published on October 25, showed that fewer patients were being seen within the target times than at its previous inspection in 1998. The commission also found no link between workloads and waiting times, with some poor performers being relatively well-staffed, and vice versa.

The NHS Plan stipulates that by 2004 all patients should be seen by a doctor within an hour of arriving in A&E, and should be discharged or admitted within four hours. The report showed the percentage of people seen within one hour during 2000 was 53%, down from 67% in 1998. The percentage being admitted within four hours was 76% last year, down from 88% two years ago.

Foster said he was reluctant to speculate on the reasons why this had occurred. But he did say that lack of resources could not be blamed.

'I would be troubled by why this had happened. These figures do reflect the public's experience of going to A&E,' he said. 'This is as much a management issue as it is a resources issue. The way A&E is managed and organised is equally important.'

Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced a £100m strategy to reduce A&E waiting time as the Audit Commission was publishing its report.

The three-year plan makes £50m available to buy an additional 25,000 operations from the private sector, helping to free beds and reduce admission waiting times.

Of the remaining £50m, £40m will pay for an extra 600 A&E nursing posts, and the other £10m will pay for local emergency care leaders to co-ordinate services within communities.


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