NHS Staff faced the busiest week for ambulances so far this winter between Christmas and the New Year, with more than 93,500 arriving at hospitals to hand over patients.
The latest data shows that the NHS’s extensive winter planning continues to pay off, highlighted by the fact that, despite increased demand, hours lost to ambulance handover delays were less than half compared to last year. Meanwhile, the number of 111 calls answered within a minute was more than double compared to last year.
As well as strike action by junior doctors, seasonal viruses continue to put pressure on hospitals, with, on average, 1,313 patients admitted each day during the week ending 31 December. This equates to around a third more than the previous week and is a five-fold increase from a month ago, when, on average, 243 patients were admitted daily.
Extensive planning paying off
Thanks to extensive winter plans and the NHS blueprint to recover urgent and emergency care, ambulance handovers have significantly improved compared to last winter.
Indeed, the latest figures show hours lost to handover delays were 56% lower than the same time last year (24,384 vs. 54,853) and this is despite ambulance arrivals peeking between Christmas and the New Year.
Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Urgent and Emergency Care, said, “These new figures are testament to the incredible hard work of NHS staff who are continuing to deliver for patients and make significant progress on our winter plans, despite ongoing demand for emergency care, increasing levels of winter viruses, and in a week that included the Christmas period – we know demand always increases following a bank holiday, but this time it also followed another round of industrial action from junior doctors, adding further pressure to services.
“And we know the pressure is not going to let up any time soon, with four more days left of the longest ever consecutive strike action taken in the history of the NHS, and flu season not expected to peak in the near future – in one week alone the number of patients in ICU with flu jumped up by 70% and the number of patients in hospital with Covid continues to rise, which is a real concern, and we are seeing much sicker, higher acuity patients coming forward for care.
“Although we have extensive preparations in place for strikes, and emergency care will continue to be prioritised, there is no denying the NHS has started the year in a very difficult position – this latest round of strike action will not only have an impact on this week but will have an ongoing effect on the weeks and months ahead, as we struggle to recover services and cope with heavy demand, but as ever I would urge the public to get their flu and Covid vaccines if they are eligible, and continue to use 999 or A&E in an emergency, and 111 online for any other conditions.”