NHS staff are managing record demand across emergency care ahead of winter, with new data showing Type 1 A&Es and ambulance services experienced their busiest month this year in October.
New data published today shows more than 2.2 million people attended A&Es last month (2,219,618), making it the busiest October on record, and the busiest month so far this year for Type 1 attendances (1,413,560). There were 547,586 emergency admissions – the highest number since January 2020 (559,058).
Ambulance services also saw their busiest month this year for category 1 (83,326) and category 2 (393,724) ambulance callouts, while more than 850,000 calls to 999 were answered last month – the highest figure this year so far.
Figures show that despite facing higher demand, the most serious ambulance response times were more than one minute faster in October (8:40) compared with the same month last year, and Category 2 response times were almost 20 minutes faster (41:40) last month compared with 1:01:19 in October 2022.
Despite this pressure and industrial action in September, NHS staff are continuing to reduce long waits for patients with year-long waits down by 5,500 in September (391,122, down from 396,643 the month before), while waits of more than 65 weeks have more than halved since their peak in June 2021 (from 233,051 to 109,138). Waits of over one year are now down to 5% of the waiting list.
For the first time, the NHS is publishing the number of individual patients on the waiting list – 6.5 million – in addition to the total number of appointments and treatments currently on the waiting list – 7.77 million.
The NHS is treating more people than before the pandemic, with 25,256 more elective appointments and procedures carried out in September compared with the same month in 2019 – this is despite contending with the first joint strike action in NHS history by junior doctors and consultants, which saw 129,913 appointments rescheduled.
Winter preparations have been well underway since the urgent and emergency care recovery plan was published earlier this year, 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.
This week, the NHS launched its annual 111 campaign ahead of winter with ads running across catch-up TV, radio, social media and online until the end of March, reminding people to continue to use NHS 111 services when they need urgent, but not life-threatening, medical advice.
The campaign highlights how people can get advice from a range of NHS staff, including clinicians, nurses, and GPs – all from the comfort of their own homes. In a life-threatening emergency, people should continue to call 999.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director, said: “Today’s figures are a stark reminder of the ongoing pressures the NHS is facing, particularly in emergency care with significant demand for ambulances and A&E, as we head into what we are expecting to be another challenging winter in the health service.
“Despite these ongoing pressures, including 10 months of strikes, the NHS has made progress on its three recovery plans, and it is important to recognise the incredible efforts of staff who are seeing and treating many more people than pre-pandemic – delivering record numbers of diagnostic tests and checks, treating more people for cancer at an earlier stage, and completing thousands more routine procedures.
“But these strikes have had a significant impact on patients and staff, and created unavoidable financial costs – this is why we have set out actions for local areas to take to protect patient safety, and prioritise urgent and emergency services so that patients receive the best possible care this winter, while the primary focus for elective activity should be on long waits and patients with urgent care and cancer needs.
“And as ever, the public can help play their part this winter by getting their flu and Covid-19 vaccinations when eligible, using services like NHS 111 to get urgent advice on the best NHS service for their needs without leaving the comfort of their homes, and by calling 999 in life-threatening emergencies.”
On each day last month, an average 12,493 patients who were medically fit to be discharged spent more time in hospital than needed.
Delayed discharges put considerable pressure on the NHS including the flow of patients from A&E through to wards, which is why the health service has been working closely with colleagues in local authorities and community settings on a range of initiatives to send more patients home when they are medically fit to leave, as well as expanding the use of out-of-hospital care including more virtual ward beds and acute respiratory infection hubs ahead of winter.
Today’s data shows the NHS continues to increase the number of virtual ward beds available, after meeting its ambition to roll out 10,000 virtual ward beds by the end of September – there are now 10,737 virtual ward beds across the country.