Faster ambulance response times for patients despite summer of record demand for the NHS

Ambulance response times improved for the third month in a row despite A&Es facing their busiest summer ever, new figures show.

There were more than 6.5 million attendances in A&Es (6,522,000) across June, July and August – more than 20,000 higher than the previous record in 2019 (6,498,472).

Following the publication of the Urgent and Emergency Care recovery plan earlier this year and thanks to the efforts of NHS staff, ambulance response times for all types of calls improved for the third month in a row.

Winter preparations have also been well underway since the UEC recovery plan was published, with measures to help boost capacity and resilience across the NHS, including care ‘traffic control’ centres to speed up discharge, additional ambulance hours and extra beds.

Today’s figures show category two response times were more than 10 minutes faster in August than the same month last year (31:30, 42:37), and category 1 calls – the most serious incidents – had an average response time of 8:17 (down from 9:08 in August 2022), despite demand for face-to-face responses being up 5% compared to last year.

The pressure on emergency care this summer came alongside ongoing industrial action, with almost 400,000 appointments having to be rescheduled during June, July and August, with strike action from junior doctors and consultants, as well as dentists and radiographers.

In total, there have been 885,154 rescheduled acute inpatient and outpatient appointments and procedures, though the true impact is likely to be much higher as many services have had to avoid scheduling planned appointments for strike days in order to prioritise emergency care.

Despite this disruption, NHS staff have continued to make progress to bring down the longest waits for patients.

Waits of more than 65 weeks reduced to 96,722 in July, which is down 59% on the peak of 233,051 in June 2021, and down from 149,770 in July last year.

The latest figures also show an improvement in average waits for elective care, with the median wait for admitted treatment 11.3 weeks in July, the lowest it has been since December, and the median wait for non-admitted elective care down to 8.2 weeks in July.

Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, said:  “Today’s figures show that despite ongoing pressures across the NHS, including record demand for emergency care this summer, and an increase in covid cases during July and August, NHS staff are continuing to deliver for patients – Category 2 ambulance response times are more than 10 minutes faster than a year ago, and significant progress continues to be made to bring down the longest waits for elective care despite months of disruption from industrial action.

“But even as we talk about a summer of record demand we have already been preparing for winter, and the improvements seen in today’s data show the hard work of staff is already paying off.

“Alongside expanding the use of out-of-hospital care – such as more virtual ward beds – and the rollout of our winter vaccination programme, we are doing all we can to prepare ahead of what has the potential to be another challenging winter with covid and flu.

“As ever, the public can also play their part by getting your winter vaccines when invited and use services in the usual way – 999 in an emergency and NHS111 online for other health conditions.”

Today’s data also shows the highest diagnostic activity for any July, with 2,214,141 tests and checks delivered, contributing to the busiest summer ever for diagnostics – a total 6,639,590 across June, July and August.

There were more GP urgent referrals seen for cancer than any other July (263,696) – the highest seen so far this year.

The figures come as the NHS launches its winter vaccine rollout earlier than initially planned, starting with people in care homes and those who are housebound this week.

The adult covid and flu vaccination programme was brought forward based on the latest expert advice following the emergence of a new covid-19 variant, and will prioritise those at greatest risk.

More sites than ever before – 3,500 – are taking part in the campaign this year to make it as easy as possible for people to get protection.

Other eligible groups will begin to be invited to get their top-up protection ahead of winter from next week, with eligible people able to book their jabs from 18 September, through the NHS website, the NHS App or by calling 119.

Eligible groups may also be offered a vaccination sooner by GP surgeries or other local NHS services.