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RCEM’s winter data reveals much worse picture of A&E waits

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s (RCEM) 2019/20 Winter Flow Project has revealed a far worse picture of 12-hour A&E stays than data published by NHS England.

According to RCEM data, in the first week of December more than 5,000 patients waited for longer than 12 hours in the emergency departments of 50 NHS trusts and boards across the UK.

From the beginning of October 2019, over 38,000 patients have waited longer than 12 hours for a bed at the sampled sites across the UK, according to the College. Yet it points out that data from NHS England show that in England alone a total of only 13,025 patients experienced waits over 12 hours since 2011/12.

“In a nine-week period, at only a third of trusts across the UK, we’ve seen nearly three times the number of 12 hour waits than has been officially reported in eight years in England. This must be fixed,” said president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson.

“The key difference in the data is the way in which it is reported. Our data measures the number of patients waiting over 12 hours from the moment they arrive at an ED, whereas NHS England (unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) start the clock at the point at which a decision to admit is made – meaning that a patient could already have been waiting hours before this.

“The way in which it has historically been reported does our patients a disservice and hides the true scale of the problem of corridor care,” she stressed, adding: We must strive to put an end to ‘corridor care’. But we can only do that if we acknowledge the true scale of the problem.”

The first Winter Flow report of 2019/20 also highlighted that just 68.79% of patients were seen within four hours at the reporting sites, marking the worst performance in the project’s five-year history.

“We are clearly in the worst state we’ve ever been in as we enter the true winter season,” Dr Henderson said. “The number one priority for the incoming government must be to address this.”

“We have to find ways of reducing the demand on our emergency departments,” said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, responding to the data.

“This survey is further evidence of the colossal pressures on staff and the real suffering of thousands of patients. It is small wonder that most leaders say this will be the worst winter ever.

“If we want a health service that can cope, we need new services in the community that will relieve the pressure on hospitals as well as action on staffing, social care, and capital investment.”