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More A&E patients face 12-hour waits despite lowest January attendances as hospitals feel the pressure

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The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for a bed after an emergency admission to Princess Alexandra Hospital more than doubled from 31 in December to 75 in January.

Pressure on the accident and emergency (A&E) department at the Harlow hospital was typical of the strain faced by NHS staff nationwide, according to Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

Across the country, as Covid-19 infections spiralled, there were 3,809 delays of at least 12 hours – despite the lowest ever January attendances at casualty units.

Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. GVs. Main Entrance. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44380377)
Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. GVs. Main Entrance. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44380377)

Dr Henderson said: “January was an extremely challenging month and placed unrelenting pressure on the health service. The data show huge numbers of 12-hour stays and difficulties offloading patients from ambulances into departments – we don't have enough beds to meet the demand.

“Twelve-hour stays have reached the highest ever figure and four-hour performance dropped to its lowest ever. This rise and fall comes despite the number of attendances being the lowest ever for January and the lowest since May 2020."

She added: “We know that the 12-hour stays reported by NHS England measure only from decision to admit to admission and don't present the full scale of 12-hour stays from arrival to discharge.”

Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. GVs. Gate 1 - Hamstel Road entrance. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44380344)
Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow. GVs. Gate 1 - Hamstel Road entrance. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (44380344)

In January, 6,034 people needed the PAH NHS Trust’s A&E services. Of these, 2,280 were admitted as a result, with 578 (25.35%) waiting more than four hours from that clinical decision and 75 (3.3%) waiting 12 hours.

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, responsible for Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, had 7,150 casualty patients and admitted 2,971. Of those, 697 (23.5%) waited four hours and 50 (1.7%) waited 12 hours.

East and North Herts NHS Trust, which runs the Lister Hospital in Stevenage and the New QEII Hospital in Welwyn Garden City, had 9,319 A&E patients. Of the 2,903 people admitted, 338 (11.6%) waited more than four hours and one waited more than 12.

Dr Henderson said: “The figures are terrible for patients and paint a picture of a truly battered and beleaguered health service. We were in an incredibly tough place going into the pandemic, but staff have worked magnificently throughout it.

“They have risen to the added pressures facing our hospitals for nearly a year now. However, these pressures and the hard work has taken a huge mental and physical toll on staff.”

She called on the Government to ensure NHS reform proposals were matched by funding and investment plus support for social care.

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