Long waits for A&E contributed to 23,000 excess patient deaths last year, a leading medical college has claimed.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) issued a warning about ‘catastrophic consequences’ to patient safety as it revealed the shocking extent of NHS waiting times.
It found that in 2022 some 1.66 million people in England waited more than 12 hours in A&E until they were admitted, transferred or discharged.
The medical college then calculated the standardised mortality ratio linked to the long waits.
A standardised mortality ratio explains whether a specific population is more, less or equally as likely to die compared with the general population.
The RCEM concluded there was one extra death for every 72 patients who spent eight to 12 hours in A&E – giving an estimated total of 23,003 excess deaths.
NHS England said the figures were ‘very unlikely to give a full or certain picture’ on excess deaths.
RCEM president Dr Adrian Boyle said: ‘These data, while shocking, are unsurprising. Long waiting times are associated with serious patient harm and patient deaths – the scale shown here for 2022 is deeply distressing.
‘The data shows how necessary it is to have transparent figures.’
What did the NHS and UK Government say?
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The cause of excess deaths is down to a number of different factors and so attributing deaths to one exact thing as the figures quoted by the RCEM attempt to do, is very unlikely to give a full or certain picture – it therefore would not be appropriate for NHSE to recognise these as fact and it is right that the experts at the ONS – as the executive branch of the statistics authority – continue to analyse excess deaths.
‘The data highlighted looks at time in A&E rather than waits and covers a year when the NHS experienced four record-breaking months for attendances in A&E.
‘The NHS is focused on improving patient flow through emergency departments and increasing the number of patients being discharged when they are medically ready.
‘The recently published UEC Recovery Plan sets out targets to achieve a four-hour performance of 76% by March 2024, and publish accurate 12-hour waits from time of arrival.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘There are a wide variety of factors contributing to excess deaths and it is important not to ascribe them to one cause.
‘However, no-one should have to wait longer than necessary to access urgent and emergency care and it’s encouraging to see significant improvements in performance last month including across all ambulance response times categories and in A&E departments.
‘We’ve published a comprehensive urgent and emergency care recovery plan, which was welcomed by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which will allow people to be seen quicker by scaling up community teams, expanding virtual wards, and getting 800 new ambulances on the road.
‘This is on top of £750 million this winter to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds.
‘At the same time we are continuing to grow the NHS workforce and have commissioned NHS England to publish a workforce plan which will set out plans to help recruit and retain more NHS staff.’
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