NHS makes progress on long waits despite winter pressures surge

The NHS has continued to cut long waits for care, as staff continue to contend with record demand for emergency care and increased flu cases in hospital, new figures show today.

Hardworking staff continue to make progress on the most ambitious catch-up programme in NHS history, with elective waiting lists for 18 weeks and 18 months reducing in October.

Tens of thousands more people got the diagnostic tests and checks they needed in October with over 63,000 more compared to the previous month. (2,055,449 in October – up from 1,992,370 in September.)

The monthly performance statistics show there were 81,655 category 1 incidents in November – the most serious ambulance callouts – the highest November total on record.

And despite the increased demand, ambulance wait times across all types of call improved in November compared to the previous month.

Alongside this, staff working in A&E dealt with more attendances, 2,166,710, than any previous November on record.

The latest weekly winter update, also published today, shows there were an average of 712 patients a day occupying beds in hospital with flu last week – up from 482 cases the previous week and compared to 31 patients per day in the same week of December 2021.

The NHS continues to see the post-pandemic impact of viruses circulating again with adult norovirus cases also increasing – up almost 90% on the same time last year, with 318 beds closed each day last week (up from 169 in the same week last year).

The number of paediatric beds closed and occupied due to RSV is five times higher than the same week last year, with an average of 132 each day (compared with 22 last year).

Hospitals and local areas continue to contend with issues in discharging patients who are medically fit from hospital, with data showing an average of 13,358 patients who were ready to leave remaining in hospital each day last week.

Overall general and acute adult bed occupancy rates remain high for this time of year at 95.4% last week – compared to 93.8% at the beginning of December last year.

The NHS has extensive plans in place to deal with additional demand for winter and today announced a boost to mental health support with dozens more mental health professionals working with ambulance services to treat people in crisis, backed by £10 million investment.

National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, Professor Julian Redhead, said: “Despite the ongoing pressures on services which are exacerbated by flu hospitalisations, issues in social care meaning we cannot discharge patients who are ready, and record numbers needing A&E, staff have powered through to bring down some of our longest waits for care.

“We have already said we are dealing with a perfect storm of pressures this winter, including increased demand for emergency are, and today announced an expansion of mental health crisis services which will ensure people suffering a mental health crisis get the help they need as quickly as possible, and reduce the chances of a patient needing to go to A&E.

“That is all on top of the measures announced NHS’ winter plan published in October which includes new hubs dedicated to respiratory infections and a falls response service to free up ambulance capacity.

“But the public can also play its part by using the best services for their care – using 111 services for urgent medical advice and 999 in an emergency – and to come forward for vaccinations, if eligible, to protect you and others around you against serious illness.”

Cancer waits have also improved as the NHS continues to refer patients in record numbers as part of our Long Term Plan commitments to catch three-quarters of cancers at stages one and two by 2028. The latest figures show the highest number of checks following a GP urgent referral for any October, with 239,180 people checked.

Nearly 19 million flu vaccines have been administered so far with NHS leaders urging everyone to come forward, especially pregnant women and parents of young children following a significant rise of hospitalisations compared to previous years.

The NHS has announced more than 40 healthcare ‘traffic control centres’ are now live. Each of the 42 integrated care systems in England now having a dedicated 24/7 operation where teams, including senior clinicians, can use data and local insights to make considered decisions in the face of ongoing pressures.

While the increase in invasive Strep A infections remains low, following the increase in the number of children presenting, NHS leaders have written to local health areas to consider setting up Acute Respiratory Infection hubs to enhance same day access to specialist advice and care.

Anyone needing healthcare advice is asked to use NHS 111 online in the first instance and call 999 in an emergency as usual.