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Number of A&E patients waiting for over 12 hours in England soars in July

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The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E departments rose 33 per cent in July from the previous month, according to data from NHS England, a record high that underscores the intense pressure facing the health system.

Some 29,317 patients had to wait for half a day or more last month, which is higher than in any month since records began in 2010 and an increase from 22,034 in June, the figures showed.

About 71 per cent of patients in England who visited emergency departments last month were seen within four hours, also the worst performance on record.

The NHS is under unprecedented strain as it seeks to tackle a record backlog of patients waiting for treatment following more than two years of disruption since the start of the Covid pandemic.

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The long wait times, said health leaders, are due to a number of challenges including a lack of staff, beds and difficulties in discharging patients as a result of pressures on the social care system, which have been compounded by the pandemic.

The NHS said the figures showed “challenges faced by staff freeing up beds throughout July, with only 40 per cent of patients able to leave hospital when they were ready to”.

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Adrian Boyle, an A&E consultant and vice-president at the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told BBC Radio 4: “It’s actually worse than the statistics would tell you. We’ve just had the worst performance since records began for our targets.”

He noted that the added pressure was unexpected given there is usually a low level of respiratory disease in July.

He noted the situation had been “gradually getting worse” since 2015. “It’s not the heatwave, it’s not the pandemic, it’s a series of under-investment and under-resourcing of our hospitals.”

The health service expects that at least 95 per cent of people attending A&E should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, but that target has not been met in England since 2015.

Other NHS waiting lists have been similarly stretched this summer. More than 430,00 patients in England waited longer than six weeks for a key diagnostic test in June, including magnetic-resonance imaging, or MRI, scans and non-obstetric ultrasounds. This is up from 306,117 in the same month last year.

The NHS elective recovery target is for 95 per cent of patients requiring a diagnostic test to receive it within six weeks by March 2025, up from the current figure of 72.5 per cent.

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Wes Streeting, Labour shadow health secretary, said: “[This is] “the biggest crisis in the NHS’s history.

“What really concerns me is that within that 6.73mn backlog that the NHS now has will also be undiagnosed conditions like cancer that will often be detected during the diagnostic or screening or treatment process for other conditions,” he told the BBC.

“I find it extraordinary that the two candidates vying to be the next Conservative prime minister are living in a fantasy world where the NHS is barely getting a mention.”

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