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Emergency Care in crisis as more patients than ever before face dangerously long waits in Emergency Departments

10 November 2022

Responding to the latest Emergency Department performance figures published by NHS England for October 2022, Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“The crisis in Emergency Care is dire. October saw nearly 44,000 patients face a 12-hour DTA wait – we know 12-hour waits measured from decision-to-admit are just the tip of the iceberg and hides the reality. We know far more patients wait for 12-hours measured from their time of arrival. NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care will still not commit to publishing this data, despite it being collected by all Trusts. We believe this is a barrier to tackling the root of the crisis.

“We know excessively long waits and dangerous crowding are associated with patient harm and increased risk of mortality. Scientific studies have shown that there is one death for every 67 patients waiting between eight and 12-hours from their time of arrival in the Emergency Department. The ONS continue to report worryingly high excess mortality figures and we believe that dangerous crowding, long delays, and the crisis in urgent and emergency care are contributing to a significant proportion of these excess deaths.

“We are increasingly concerned about the winter and the health system’s ability to cope. We are already at 94.3% bed occupancy for all general and acute beds and each month patients face the longest waits on record. The system is failing in its core function – the quick and effective delivery of emergency care.

“We need meaningful action now – sticking plasters like setting up tents or handover units will do nothing to resolve these long-waits and may actually cause more harm to patients. We know we need to be able to admit patients, we know ambulances need to handover patients quickly, we agree that it is vital that ambulances must return to Urgent and Emergency calls in the community – but to achieve this we must tackle the issue of poor flow in our hospitals.

“Many patients in hospital no longer meet the criteria to reside, they are occupying beds to which we could be admitting patients. Around 13,000 people are in hospital unable to be discharged. We urgently need an effective social care workforce to help with the discharge of these patients, so we can admit patients, receive patient handovers promptly, and get ambulances back out to the community.

“It is crucial that those in power understand that this is not a demand issue, attendances are not causing crowding and long waits. Crowding and long waits are a consequence of the inability to move patients through the hospital, a consequence of patients who are unable to be discharged because of severe cuts to social care. If you can’t discharge patients, beds are indefinitely occupied and the whole system is blocked. The government must get a grip of the social care crisis to fix flow.”

Commenting on the news that the RCN have voted in favour of strike action, Dr Adrian Boyle said:

“In Emergency Medicine there is a retention crisis, particularly amongst our nursing colleagues. Emergency Medicine nurses are a critical part of the workforce – EM is a team sport. We know and understand that many EM staff, including nurses, are burned out, exhausted and overwhelmed. They are skilled, competent professionals who deliver excellent care for our patients. It is vital that our nursing colleagues feel valued and appreciated.”

Notes to editor

The latest Emergency Department performance figures published by NHS England for October 2022 for show:

  • There were 1,399,916 attendances at major Emergency Departments
    • This represents a 7.5% increase compared with September 2022, and a 1.7% increase compared with pre-pandemic levels (October 2019)
    • There were 2,000,493 attendances at all Emergency Care facilities
  • 43,792 patients were delayed for 12-hours or more from decision to admit to admission
    • This is the highest number of 12-hour waits on record
    • It is 520% higher than the same month last year, October 2021, and it is 5932% higher than October 2019
    • There have now been 255,334 12-hour DTA stays recorded so far in 2022 – three times as many as were recorded in the 137 months prior to 2022
  • Four-hour performance at major Emergency Departments was 54.8%, this is the worst four-hour performance on record
    • This is a 7.1 percentage point decrease from October 2021, and a 19.7 percentage point decrease compared with October 2019
  • Type 1 admissions stood at 366,964 (a daily average of 11,838)
  • 2% of type 1 attendances were admitted, this is a one percentage point decrease from September 2022
  • 150,922 patients spent more than four hours in an Emergency Department from decision to admit to admission (also referred to as ‘trolley waits’)
    • This is the highest figure on record and is a 14.5% increase from September 2022
  • Delays to admission stood at 29.8%, this is the highest on record and a 2.8 percentage point decrease from September 2022

The latest beds data for October 2022 show:

  • Last month there were 97,350 general and acute beds available, an increase of 0.71% from September. The occupancy rate was 94.3%, 0.7 percentage points higher than September, the highest monthly figure on record
  • The occupancy rate for adult general and acute beds was 95.6%, also the highest figure on record.

The latest Hospital Episodic Statistics published by NHS Digital for September 2022 show:

  • Patients leaving the department before being seen stood at 5.2%. This is a decrease of 0.2 percentage points from August 2022, but a decrease of 0.7 percentage points from September 2021.
  • Unplanned reattendance rate was 8.5%. This is 0.4 percentage points lower than September 2022, but 0.3 percentage points higher than September 2021.
  • Median time in department for admitted patients was 404 minutes. This is an increase of 29% compared with September 2021 (314 minutes). For all patients, the median wait was 192 minutes.


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