The health service has failed to meet the accident and emergency waiting target for seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours for the first week this winter.

The latest figures from NHS England, published today, show only 94.8 per cent of all A&E patients were treated, discharged or admitted within the required four hours. In previous weeks this winter, the 95 per cent target has been met.

The figures for type 1 A&E incidents – the category for serious incidents - show a fall-off from 94 per cent during last month to 92.2 per cent in the latest week’s data.

Several trusts’ type 1 performance has fallen below 80 per cent, with University Hospitals of Leicester Trust seeing only 73 per cent of patients within four hours and Southend University Hospital Foundation Trust only 78.4 per cent.

Mid Staffordshire Hospital University Trust’s performance has improved from 76.8 per cent to 85.7 per cent in the most recent figures, which cover last week.

NHS England deputy chief executive Dame Barbara Hakin attributed the drop in performance to an increase in attendances and emergency admissions. She said: “It is of course disappointing that any patient has to wait longer than they should in A&E however we are now seeing many more patients than ever before.

“Last week was the busiest so far this year, with 415,400 attendances and 105,800 emergency admissions - the highest number of emergency admissions since we started collecting data in November 2010.”

Dame Barbara added: “Every year we see a dip in the figures for December, with week on week variations which is why we fully assess how local systems are coping with winter pressures over a longer period.

“The number of emergency admissions has been consistently high now for the past three weeks, and is in line with the emerging trend which has seen a 31 per cent rise in number of people needing emergency admission to hospital over the last ten years.”