12 December 2014
Last updated at 00:38
Hospitals across the UK are facing mounting pressures as winter hits, health leaders are warning.
Demands on the NHS tend to increase during the colder months because of illnesses like flu and Norovirus.
But with winter just getting under way pressures are already reaching record levels.
Extra money is being invested in each nation, but the four-hour AE waiting time target is still being missed everywhere.
The warning comes as the BBC launches its NHS Winter project, which tracks how the health service is performing down to individual hospital trust level.
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British Medical Association leader Dr Mark Porter said: “Pressure on NHS services is at a critical point and cracks are beginning to appear.
“While the NHS is used to seeing a spike in demand during winter months, this year emergency departments have experienced a spring, summer and autumn crisis as well, leaving no spare capacity in hospitals as we approach winter.
“At the same time, GP surgeries are struggling to cope with unprecedented levels of demand.”
Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health bosses, said he agreed, adding the pressures were “huge” across the whole system.
“While the winter brings its own challenges, our members regularly tell us that it is ‘winter all year round’ with pressures being experienced regardless of the time of year.”
But Sarah Pinto-Duschinsky, director of operations and delivery for NHS England, said: “The NHS is pulling out all the stops, with local hospitals, ambulances, GPs, home health services and local councils all working hard to open extra beds and seven-day services using the extra winter funding.”
How the UK is preparing for winter
- In England an extra £700m has been set aside to help the NHS. This is paying for the equivalent of 1,000 extra doctors, 2,000 nurses and 2,000 community staff, including social workers and physios.
- Ministers in Scotland have announced an extra £8.2m for the NHS to increase capacity and improve the way patients are discharged during winter.
- In Wales the NHS has been given an extra £200m for this year. The money is for the whole health service, but ministers say it will help relieve the pressures in the coming months.
- Ministers in Northern Ireland have released an additional £5m for both hospitals and the community, including ambulance liaison officers to speed up handovers between paramedics and AE teams.
As health is devolved, data is published differently in the four UK nations.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland hospitals are expected to see 95% of AE patients in four hours.
In Wales, the data is published monthly with the figures from October showing just 84.7% of patients were seen in time – with one in 20 waiting more than eight hours.
Northern Ireland is performing even worse – just under 80% of patients were seen within four hours in October.
In England, weekly figures are published.
These show the waiting time target has been missed every week since the end of August, with performance mostly hovering between 93% and 94%. The data covers the period until the end of November. Figures for the first week of December will be released later on Friday.
Scotland has a slightly tougher waiting time target – 98% of patients should be seen in four hours. In September under 94% were.
A major part of the problem is the increase in the number of attendances and emergency admissions – the most complex cases that cannot be treated within the AE unit – which has been seen in recent years.
In England, the weekly total topped 110,000 at the end of November – the highest it has ever been – while delays in discharging patients from hospital are at their highest levels since monitoring began in 2010.
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