The number of patients who were medically fit to leave hospital but could not be safely discharged reached a record high in June as NHS England continued to creak under the strain of increasing demand.
Targets to reach patients quickly enough after a 999 call and treat patients in A&E within four hours continued to be missed, and there were 3.63 million people on the waiting list for non-urgent care in hospital, usually elective operations.
The worrying figures emerged after the NHS had its busiest June on record, with more than 1.9 million A&E attendances, up by 2.1% on the same month last year, and more than 480,000 emergency admissions, 4.7% higher than in June 2015.
The NHS Confederation chief executive, Stephen Dalton, said: “These figures once again illustrate the strain the NHS is under to maintain timely access to high standards of care in the face of huge financial pressures.
“Our staff on the frontline are working flat out and deserve recognition for the dedication they display, day in, day out. But unless we break the cycle, performance results will continue to follow this downward trend.
“The recent and important relaxation of some targets, and of the penalties for missing them, will give many hospitals much-needed opportunity.
“We now need the government to incentivise greater coordination between local authorities and the NHS, and to invest more in out-of-hospital health and care.”
There were 6,105 patients delayed in hospital when medically fit to be discharged in June, often because social care support was not available, compared with 6,045 in May. The number of days lost to delayed transfers of care was 171,298, the second highest recorded, below only the total of 171,452 in May.
Hospital A&E departments admitted, transferred or discharged 85.8% of patients within the required four hours, well below the target of 95%. The number of patients waiting longer than four hours, 181,535, has almost doubled in the past year, from 96,663 in June 2015. Earlier this week, medics’ representatives warned that hospital emergency wards are in crisis as the supply of doctors fails to keep pace with demand for their services.
Nearly one-third of critically ill patients had to wait more than eight minutes for an ambulance to arrive in June. The national target is for no more than 25% of critically ill patients to wait this long.
The objective for non-urgent care was also not achieved, with 91.5% of patients waiting 18 weeks or less for treatment, below the 92% target.
The Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith said: “Waits for ambulances are going up, A&E departments are bursting at the seams and cuts to social care have left older people trapped on hospital wards for weeks or even months at a time.
“I won’t sit back and allow the Tories to destroy one of Labour’s greatest creations. That is why, if I am elected Labour leader and then prime minister, I would introduce a wealth tax on the richest 1% of people to fund a 4% annual increase in NHS funding.”
Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s national director for operations and information, said frontline services were improving in the face of intense pressure. “We continue to admit, treat or discharge more than nine out of 10 emergency patients within the four-hour target time,” he said.
A Department of Health spokesman said almost 60,000 people a day were seen in A&E within four hours and there were 1,250 extra doctors working in emergency departments compared with 2010.
“We are committed to delivering a safer, seven-day NHS, which is why we have invested £10bn to fund the NHS’s own plan to transform services in the future,” the spokesman said.