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More than 250 needless deaths occur each week due to agonising waits in A&E

Two paramedics and a patient in an ambulance.
Waiting lists for emergency wards have spiralled for years (Picture: Getty Images)

Almost 14,000 people died needlessly in England last year due to ‘excessively long’ A&E waits of up to 12 hours, a new study suggests.

Hospitals in the country have become ‘fatally unsafe’, unions say, due to the lack of beds and staff.

An average of 286 people are likely to have died each week in 2023 while waiting in emergency departments, Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) found.

There was one excess death for every 72 patients that spent eight to 12 hours in an emergency ward – the risk of death grew from five hours.

‘Waiting time’ refers to how long it takes after arriving in A&E to be admitted to hospital, transferred to another healthcare provider or discharged.

The NHS once aimed to admit, transfer and discharge 95% of patients attending A&Ewithin four hours, according to the Handbook to the NHS Constitution.

Pedestrian entrance to the Accident and Emergency Unit at University College Hospital as viewed from the pavement on the Euston Road.
Patients sometimes found themselves waiting in corridors to be seen (Picture: Getty Images)

However, an analysis by the emergency physician association found the NHS falls far short of this, with just 70.9% of patients seen within that time frame.

This falls below even the lower target of 76% to be hit by March 2024 health officials set in December 2022.

NHS data shows more than 1,500,000 patients waited 12 hours or more in emergency units last year.

In February, 44,417 patients waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E departments. That same month, an average of 13,373 people were admitted to hospital in an emergency via A&E each day.

These figures do not include people waiting in the back of ambulances.

RCEM president Dr Adrian Boyle said: ‘Excessively long waits continue to put patients at risk of serious harm.

‘Small improvements in four-hour access standard performance are not meaningful when there are so many people staying more than 12 hours.

‘Effort and money should go where the harm is greatest.’

A UK ambulance staff member emerges from the back of an ambulance with his emergency backpack , and vital signs monitor .
Pressures on A&E wards have been on the up for years as admission rates increase (Picture: Getty Images)

Dr Boyle said a lack of capacity in A&E is one factor behind the wait, leading to people requiring emergency care being stuck in corridors or ambulances.

Health campaigners have long said the NHS is creaking at the seams, with funding not going as far as it used to, a lack of investment, declining working conditions for staff, an ageing population and a seeminly limitless demand among the reasons why.

‘The direct correlation between delays and mortality rates is clear. Patients are being subjected to avoidable harm,’ Dr Boyle added.

‘Urgent intervention is needed to put people first. Patients and staff should not bear the consequences of insufficient funding and under-resourcing.

‘We cannot continue to face inequalities in care, avoidable delays and death.’

The RCEM crunched the numbers of a study of 5,000,000 NHS patients published in the Emergency Medicine Journal (EMJ) in 2021 and a freedom of information audit.

The college stressed, however, that its new analysis still likely falls short of the true death toll.

In 2022, the RCEM estimated 300 to 500 excess deaths occurred in England each week that year.

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘We have seen significant increases in demand for A&E services, with attendances in February up 8.6% on last year and emergency admissions up 7.7%, and the latest published data shows our urgent and emergency care recovery plan – backed by extra funding with more beds, capacity and greater use of measures like same day emergency care – is delivering improvements, alongside continued work with our colleagues in community and social care to discharge patients when they are medically fit to go home, freeing up beds for other patients.

‘The cause of excess deaths is down to several different factors and so it is right that the experts at the ONS – as the executive branch of the stats authority – continue to analyse these causes.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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