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RCEM: ‘We must not normalise crisis’

14 December 2023

We must not normalise crisis or celebrate small improvements – our patients and our members deserve more.

That is the response of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine to the latest A&E performance data.

Today (14 December 2023) two sets of data published by NHS England, have been released: the latest Urgent and Emergency Care (UEC) Daily Situation Reports 2023-24< (also known as Winter Sitrep); and monthly A&E performance figures for November 2023.

While there have been some small signs of improvement in certain areas the overall situation remains extremely challenging with A&E departments declaring critical incidents this week, clinicians describing things as the worst they have experienced and ambulance chiefs expressing serious concerns about the pressure their service is under.

The most recent Winter UEC Sitrep data which covers the period 4-10 December 2023 paints a worrying picture with bed occupancy running dangerously high at almost 95% (the level considered ‘safe‘ is 85%) and two-thirds of ambulances not meeting the 15-minute target to hand over patients.

There was a small uplift in the number of beds available within hospitals, but these do not appear to have helped to ease pressure elsewhere in the system, and there remain thousands of patients, who are well enough to go home, but have not been discharged – occupying beds which are needed for other people.

The November performance data reveals that last month more than 144,000 people who visited an A&E within the month were there for more than 12 hours – the target is four hours.

Reacting to these figures, Dr Adrian Boyle, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:
“While the data suggest a marginal improvement compared to last year, it’s just deja-vu and we must not allow this permacrisis to become accepted as ‘normal’.

“Ambulances are queueing outside A&Es, Trusts are declaring critical incidents, patients are facing dangerously long waits in overcrowded and uncomfortable A&Es. Conditions are intense and difficult for staff, and the experience of patients is distressing and undignified.

“Clinicians are doing their very best, despite the circumstances, to deliver optimal and compassionate care, and mitigate any potential risks to patients but it is taking its toll on them too.

“It is welcome to see small increases in bed numbers, but it is not enough and patients continue to endure long waits.

“Significant and urgent action is required now to address these issues – this is what our members and their patients need and deserve.”

Data in detail:
The latest Urgent and Emergency Care Winter sitrep data for week ending 10 December (week four of publication for 2023/24) published today by NHS England show:

  • Bed occupancy levels at Trusts with a major A&E (Type 1 acute Trust) was 94.9%
  • There were 99,497 beds open at Trusts with a major A&E, 1,521 more than the same week last year
  • The Government promised that by winter 2023/24 there would be 5,000 more beds open when compared to October 2022 (97,287). For this week, there was an increase of 2,210 Type 1 beds compared with October 2022
  • On average, one third of ambulance handovers involved a delay of over 30 minutes, while only one third of patients arriving at A&E were handed over within 15 minutes as per national guidance
  • On average, 46,929 patients occupied a bed for more than seven days at a Trust with a major A&E
  • On average, 384 beds were general and acute beds were occupied by patients with flu
  • On average, 12,927 patients remained in hospital while no longer who were ready to be discharged
  • There was an average of 49,020 daily staff absences at Trusts with a major A&E
    • This is 7,547 fewer than the same week last year.

Published today (14 December 2023) by NHS England, the latest A&E performance figures for November 2023

  • There were 1,385,701 attendances to major A&Es (Type 1 EDs) in November 2023
    • This is a 1.97% decrease compared with the previous month
  • In November 2023, 144,085 patients waited 12-hours or more from their time of arrival
  • This accounts for 10.9% of all major A&E attendances in November
  • This means that more than one in 10 patients waited 12-hours or more
  • The four-hour target at major A&Es stood at 55.4%, this is the fourth worst four-hour performance on record and the lowest so far in 2023
  • The aggregate four-hour target stood at 69.7%, the lowest so far in 2023. This is 6.3 percentage points lower than the Government’s intermediary threshold target of 76% to be hit by March 2024
  • 42,854 patients waited 12 hours or more from decision to admit (DTA) to admission
    • This is a 4% decrease when compared to the previous month
    • It is a 13.2% increase when compared with November 2022
  • Beds data for October 2023 show bed occupancy stood at 94.8%
  • Data show there were 98,844 Type 1 General & Acute beds available
  • This is an increase of 1,473 beds from October 2023 (97,371). And an increase of 1,636 beds from November 2022 (97,208)
  • Since it was announced in January 2023 that 5,000 new beds would be made available by winter 2023/24 compared with October 2022 (when there was 97,287 beds available), there has been an increase of 1,557 beds
  • There were 396,755 emergency admissions at major A&Es
  • This is a 1.19% decrease since the previous month (401,523)
  • This is the second highest number of admissions so far in 2023.
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