‘July heatwave’ causes highest A&E demand ever

8 Aug 19

A&E attendances in England were at an all-time high in July with patients waiting longer than ever for elective care and treatment for cancer.

The total number of A&E attendances was 2,266,913, 4% up from July last year and the highest since records began, official figures released today have shown.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, explained that the record numbers of people attending A&E last month was because of the “soaring temperatures in July”, which he said had “taken their toll on patients and staff”.

“The number of people waiting over four hours on trolleys to be admitted was also unusually high for summer at over 57,000 – a figure that would have once been unthinkable, even in the depths of winter," he said.

Only four out of 119 trusts saw 95% of patients within the four-hour target, the NHS England monthly figures showed, which was last met England-wide in July 2015.

Health charities have warned that these data demonstrate the strain the emergency services are under.

Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: “For the first time, the winter crisis in A&E has merged straight into a summer crisis, with no sign of the usual summer recovery.”

Last year, then-prime minister Theresa May announced £20bn a year extra for the NHS until 2023-24 and this week her successor Boris Johnson promised £1.8bn to invest in infrastructure for the health service. 

Murray said the new figures suggested a “long wait” is likely before things will get better.

Senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation Tim Gardner said the new funding is “welcome, but nowhere close” to enough to pay for the equipment and facilities that would adequately reduce the strain on the service.

The number of patients meeting the 18 weeks after referral wait target to begin elective care fell to 86.3% in June (down from 87.8% in the same month in 2018, and lower than the target of 92%).

And the 85% target for patients waiting 62 days or less from GP referral to first treatment for cancer has been missed every quarter for the last five and a half years.

Gardner said: ‘The new prime minister [Boris Johnson] has identified reducing NHS waiting times as one of his key priorities, but today’s statistics show there is a mountain to climb.”

Director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers Miriam Deakin said the figures reflected “sustained increases” in all-year-round demand for services.

She said: “Trusts have not been able to use the summer months to catch up and clear waiting lists as they used to do in the past.”

She pointed to the more than 100,000 staff vacancies in the service, and warned of a “concerning picture ahead of what trust leaders already know will be a very challenging winter”.

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