“Alarming” 12-hour wait times for more than 1,000 A&E patients each day, the report shows

A new report from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine shows that on average, more than 1,000 patients wait more than 12 hours a day to be seen in emergency departments

A worrying new report shows long wait times in emergency rooms
A worrying new report shows long wait times in emergency rooms

More than 1,000 patients wait more than 12 hours every day to be seen in emergency rooms, a disturbing new report shows.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) released figures showing that in 2021 an average of 1,047 patients per day were not seen 12 hours after their arrival.

The college raised concerns about “alarming” patient numbers in emergency departments, calling recent data on 12-hour wait times “the tip of the iceberg.”

The level of “overcrowding” in emergency departments “suggests that the healthcare system is unable to meet patient needs with current resources and capacity.”

Official figures show that in March more than 20,000 patients spent more than 12 hours in emergency rooms after doctors decided they were ill enough to warrant hospitalization.

More than 1,000 people wait more than 12 hours every day, the report shows


(Getty Images)

However, the RCEM said the current 12-hour wait figures are a “gross understatement of reality” as “a far greater number of patients experience extreme wait times of 12 hours or more from their arrival”.

The college sent freedom of information requests to hospitals in England to find out how many patients had waited 12 hours or more since arriving in an emergency room.

Of the 118 hospital operators contacted, 74 responded.

At these trusts, in 2021, 381,991 patients (4.3%) experienced a delay of 12 hours from their arrival at the department.

The report said the situation was “much worse than the official figures suggest”.

The authors said that in 2020/21, the number of patients who waited 12 hours after arriving in the emergency department was 21 times higher than the reported number of patients who waited 12 hours or more after a decision was made, they record at a station.

The report notes that the situation is “much worse than the official numbers suggest.”


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Official statistics show that in 2020/21, 14,150 people waited 12 hours after the admission decision.

But the RCEM said about 302,784 people waited 12 hours or more after arriving at an emergency room.

In 2019/20 it was 522,720.

“Long stays and overcrowding usually result from full hospitals being unable to find a bed for patients, so they are left on a trolley – these are typically elderly and frail patients,” the authors write.

They noted that the NHS has changed the way it records data and this year data is now being measured from the patient’s arrival at an emergency department through to discharge, admission or transfer.

dr RCEM Vice-President Adrian Boyle called for the 12-hour data from arrival time to be released alongside monthly NHS performance figures.

He said: “These numbers are staggering and show the critical state of the emergency and emergency response system.

“They also make it clear that measuring 12-hour wait times from the decision to admit obscures the reality that patients and staff face.

“Clearly, measuring 12-hour wait times in this way is misleading and undermines staff efforts to improve ED wait times.”

The report comes after video emerged of a nurse in an Essex emergency room telling patients they could wait up to 13 hours to see a doctor.

Commenting on the report, Wendy Preston, Head of RCN Nursing Practice, said: “This is further evidence that the emergency services are in disarray.

“The crisis of the health and care workforce is central to this – there are simply not enough staff to deliver the required services and patient safety has never been at greater risk, not to mention the poor patient experience.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said: “Emergency services remain overwhelmed and are under constant strain.

“Hospitals are struggling to get people who are well enough to go home as quickly as possible, in large part due to the significant pressure on social care capacities, particularly home care.

“Combined with increased demand in the wake of the pandemic, this is having a serious impact on the timely admission to the emergency department and the transfer of patients from ambulances.”

An NHS spokesman said: “The admission of 302,000 patients with the virus in 2021 – up from 242,000 in 2020 – alongside infection control requirements has had a notable impact on the NHS’ bed capacity.

“NHS staff continue to go above and beyond, working closely with social care colleagues to ensure people leave hospital when they are able, not just because it is better for them, but because it helps free up valuable NHS bed space for people who need it most.”

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ response to the emergency room crisis is to scrap zero tolerance for waiting times longer than 12 hours. 24 hours in the ER is not just a TV program, it is government policy.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We recognize the pressures that emergency and emergency care staff and services face, which is why we are taking a holistic approach to ensure people are getting the care they need need when you need them.

“This includes an additional £50m in funding to support increased NHS 111 call-taking capacity, to get medically healthy patients discharged as soon as possible and to invest £1.5bn to create 50m more GP appointments by 2024 – to avoid unnecessary demands on emergency care.

“There are a record number of nurses, doctors and staff working across the NHS overall and we are tackling the Covid backlog by establishing surgical centers and community diagnostic centers – with over 90 checks already open and over a million additional checks delivered.”

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