Accident and emergency departments are ‘cracking under extreme pressure’ with the number of patients waiting longer than four hours at a record high.
Last week’s figures from NHS England show that 7,760 patients waited more than four hours to be seen, treated, admitted or discharged.
This is the highest number since weekly records began in 2010.
Emergency admissions via A&E were at their highest ever level last week, with 110,092 patients admitted.
Only 87.7 per cent of patients were seen within four hours, the worst performance since April 2013 when the UK experienced a particularly cold bout of weather.
Last week saw a surge in delayed transfers of care compared with the same week last year, with a 29 per cent increase.
The number of ambulance handovers delayed for more than 30 minutes also rose, with a 23 per cent increase on last year.
Richard Murray, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said the figures were “grim”.
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“There’s no real sign that D&V [norovirus], flu or delayed transfers of care are running particularly high, which means the performance is weak even before any of the traditional winter troubles strike,” he added.
The government’s £700m winter pressure fund that has been given to providers has failed to make an impact, he said.
“I think if it was going to kick in, it would have done it by now, it’s already in [the system] and it’s what’s holding the target at 87 per cent rather than 80 per cent.”
Mark Porter, the British Medical Association council chair, said the figures pointed to “a system cracking under extreme pressure, leading to unacceptable delays in care”.
He added: “Frontline staff are working flat out but the system can’t cope with the sheer number of patients coming through the door. So far there has been a total failure by government to come up with a meaningful plan to deal with this – funding announced recently to tackle winter pressures is simply recycled money, taken from other overstretched services.”
Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said there was “extra pressure on our hospitals” but the NHS remains “resilient and is pulling out all the stops”.
“Local hospitals, ambulances, GPs, home health services and local councils [are] all working hard to open extra beds and seven day services using the extra winter funding that has been made available,” she said.