Leaked A&E waiting figures prompt NHS funding row

Leaked figures have shown record numbers of patients spent more than four hours in A&E units in England in January – prompting further questions about whether the service is properly funded.

According to the figures obtained by the BBC, January was the worst month for A&E waits since records began 13 years ago.

The BBC cited documents that appear to come from NHS Improvement, an organisation that aims to help hospitals provide better care, while balancing their books.

The figures, which are disputed by the Department of Health, show 82% of patients in A&E were transferred, admitted or discharged within four hours – well below the 95% target.

More than 60,000 people waited between four and 12 hours in A&E for a hospital bed after a decision to admit – known as a “trolley wait” – and more than 780 people waited more than 12 hours for a bed.

Official figures for December show 86.2% of A&E patients in England were dealt with in under four hours. The figures show that across the four countries, Scotland performed best, with 92.6% of patients dealt with in under four hours, while Wales and Northern Ireland’s figures were lower than England’s at 80% and 70% respectively.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, an organisation representing hospitals in England, said: “These figures have not been verified and should therefore be treated with caution, but they are in line with the feedback we have been getting from trusts. The headline of 82% of patients being admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours indicates a further slippage in overall performance in the face of unprecedented demand.”

A Department of Health spokesperson stressed in a statement that the government had committed £10 billion to transform NHS Services.

The spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these figures — it is irresponsible to publish unverified data and does a disservice to all NHS staff working tirelessly to provide care around the clock.”

The figures provoked outrage from organisations such as doctors’ unions, which have been arguing that the government has been underfunding the NHS for several years.

Whether or not the official figures back up the BBC’s story in a few months’ time, it’s clear that the NHS is under huge financial pressures and is struggling to cope.

The government has made great play of the NHS and its potential as a test-bed for new medicines. But as the service seems unable to cope with demand because of a lack of finances, it seems increasingly unlikely that the NHS will be willing to pay for highly expensive branded medicines in the future.

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