Accident and emergency waiting times in England are at their worst since September 2004, according to data from the Department of Health.

The number of patients being seen within four hours at A&E units has fallen to 96.5 per cent for the three months to December 2010. The figure is the lowest it has been since the second quarter of 2004-05, when it hit 95.9 per cent.

The target for A&E waiting times was 98 per cent up to the end of June 2010, when it was reduced to 95 per cent.

There were 5.24 million attendances to all types of A&E departments between October and December 2010, down from 5.29 million for the same period last year. But more than 74,000 of those attendees spent over four hours in A&E in 2010 than in the same months last year.

The percentage of patients spending four hours or less in A&E has fallen in each of the last three quarters.

Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust had the lowest figure. Only 90 per cent of over 18,000 attendees at Mid Staffs were seen within four hours.