A&E visits 50 per cent higher in December than April COVID peak

Half a million more people sought help in England’s A&Es in December compared with the first peak of the pandemic in April, according to new data from the NHS, which show essential services were being maintained at the end of the year.

Median waits for elective care also fell, down to 10.4 weeks in November from 11.1 weeks the month before.

There were 125,151 more referrals in November compared to April and over 25,000 people began treatment in just one month.

Alongside non-COVID care, the NHS also confirmed nearly a quarter of a million COVID-positive patients have received care in England’s hospitals.

With figures showing that there are around 13,000 more people in hospital with COVID-19 today than at the peak of the virus in April, the NHS medical director has warned that latest data on hospital performance are “a stark reminder” of the danger of COVID-19 and the extreme pressure on NHS services, which mean everybody needs to follow national guidance.

Cancer treatment and referrals are back to usual levels, with more than 25,000 starting treatment in November and more than 200,000 people referred for checks with more being seen within two weeks in November, compared to the previous month.

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “Despite 2020 being the year of COVID, nearly 20 million people received emergency care in England’s A&Es, while in November alone as COVID-19 was spreading more rapidly, patients still benefitted from four million important elective treatments and essential checks on the NHS.

“And actually, hardworking staff have ensured that the waiting list is lower than it was at the same point last year with the average waiting time for treatment,  improving comparing to the previous month.

“Despite there being almost 23,000 people with COVID in England’s hospitals at end December – 20 per cent higher than the April peak – nonetheless it’s important that 50 per cent more people still came forward for urgent care in our A&Es, twice as many elective treatments were delivered and around three times as many diagnostic checks were carried out, showing that essential non-COVID care was being maintained even as the virus began to get out of control.

“The NHS has cared for nearly a quarter of a million COVID-positive patients already, who collectively spent more than two million nights in hospital, while also keeping emergency care running.

“NHS 111 has remained a safe and important way for people to get care as the pandemic took hold again at the end of last year and despite this pressure, performance of NHS advice of the phone actually improved, with a greater proportion of people getting their call answered more quickly and getting a call back faster.

“These figures are a stark reminder that the NHS is facing an exceptionally tough challenge, and that while still millions of people are getting care for non-COVID health problems in the NHS in England – indeed for every COVID patient in hospital, the NHS is treating three people for other conditions – there is no doubt that services will continue to be under additional pressure until and unless this virus is under control, which is why it’s so important that everyone practises social distancing and follows national guidance.”