More than 1.5 million patients in England had to wait 12 hours or longer in A&E in the past year, according to figures that MPs say lay bare the impact of the government’s neglect of the NHS.
Last month 177,805 patients faced waits of 12 hours or more to be seen in emergency departments, an average of 5,735 a day. It means one in 10 patients (12.4%) arriving at A&E waited 12 hours before being admitted, transferred or discharged.
In total between February 2023 and January 2024, 1,540,945 patients experienced long waits, according to analysis of official data by the Liberal Democrats.
“Every day thousands of patients are being left scared and in pain in overcrowded A&Es, waiting for 12 hours or more to receive the care they need,” said Daisy Cooper, the party’s health spokesperson. “These devastating delays lay bare the stark impact of this government’s neglect of the NHS.”
January was the worst month in the past year as winter pressures struck. In some hospitals, one in four patients faced delays of 12 hours or more. One 88-year-old woman was left waiting 16 hours, the Lib Dems said.
The analysis showed the actual amount of time patients spent in A&E after arriving before being admitted, transferred or discharged. The figures are separate from last week’s published “trolley wait” figures, which only measure the time taken after a decision to admit a patient has been made.
The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments from a decision to admit them to actually being admitted soared to 54,308 in January, up sharply from 44,045 in December.
This was the second highest figure on record, just below 54,573 in December 2022.
The number of people who waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission also grew, from 148,282 in December to 158,721 last month – again, the second highest figure on record.
Long waits at A&E have been linked to serious patient harm. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has previously highlighted data showing that once people wait more than about six hours and need to be admitted into hospital, their risk of dying starts to increase.
Cooper said: “Waits of 12 hours or more can have catastrophic consequences for people’s health, particularly the elderly and vulnerable. No one should have to wait this long for care, yet in some areas these unacceptably long delays have become almost the norm. It’s time Conservative ministers started taking this NHS crisis seriously instead of ignoring all the warning signs while patients suffer.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said A&E performance was improving, despite winter pressures and the highest number of January A&E attendances on record.
“We’re determined to continue improving patient care, having already delivered on our promise to create 5,000 extra permanent hospital beds and 10,000 hospital at home beds, freeing up capacity and cutting waiting times,” a spokesperson added.