Cold snap adds to A&E pressures

Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The number of patients waiting for more than four hours in English NHS casualty departments went up last week as snow and cold weather pushed up A&E attendances.

Some 92.3% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within the target time – down from last week’s 93% and the 18th week in succession that the goal of 95% has been missed – according to figures released by NHS England.

Accidents and falls linked to the cold weather contributed to an 11,000 increase in the number of people turning up at A&E, which reached 401,000 in the week ending February 1, but still below the peak of 440,000 experienced before Christmas.

Meanwhile, figures from Public Health England showed “significant excess mortality” among over-65s for the eighth week in succession and among under-fives for the fourth week this year, which officials linked not only with the recent cold snap, but also with the circulation of a flu virus against which vaccines are this year providing unusually low levels of protection.

The Office for National Statistics reported earlier this week that the death rate in England and Wales is around a third higher than normal for this time of year, with 28,800 deaths registered in the fortnight ending January 23.

Figures from Public Health England showed flu levels are now higher than the peak for the last three winters, although they have not reached the levels seen in the winters of 2010/11 and 2008/09.

GP consultations for severe asthma and respiratory infection also continue to increase in adults and are at higher levels than recent years.

The total number of people waiting more than four hours in casualty departments was 8,400 last week, up from 7,500 the week before. The number of people admitted to wards after attending A&E also increased to 104,500, from 104,200 the previous week.

NHS England national director of commissioning operations Dr Barbara Hakin said: “With snow and colder weather across much of the country, A&E visits and admissions edged up compared to last week, with a slight impact on waiting, but we continue to admit, treat and discharge more than nine out of 10 patients within four hours.

“The cold can also contribute to heightened levels of respiratory illness – particularly among the elderly and those with long-term conditions. We would urge the elderly to stay warm, and for people to look out for elderly relatives, friends or neighbours, and make full use of pharmacists where appropriate.”

Cold weather alerts have been in place across the country since January 12.

The NHS 111 phoneline had 248,000 calls in the week ending February 1, up from 242,000 in the previous week, but significantly down on the peak of 439,000 for the week ending December 28.

Bed-blocking was down, with the average number of beds occupied per day because of delayed discharge at 4,200, down from 4,300 the previous week.

Published: Friday 6th February 2015 by The News Editor

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