Comment written by Jessica Sephton, Junior Litigation Executive within Fletchers Solicitors Medical Negligence Team.
The Department of Health first introduced the four-hour waiting target for A&E Departments up and down the country back in 2004.
The objective was clear. Patients were simply not being seen soon enough, so in an attempt to amend this, targets were set to ensure that at least 98% of people attending A&E must be seen, treated and admitted/discharged within four hours of entering the building.
The target continued to drop as the years went by, falling from the optimistic 98% to a more realistic 95%. This again was altered in 2017 when Jeremy Hunt advised that this target would now only apply to ‘urgent health problems’.
Fast forward 15 years, and waiting times have reached an all-time low since records began.
During January this year, only 84.4% patients were being seen within the designated timeframe. 333000 patients waited longer than they should have. If that’s not frightening enough, it’s been noted that A&E targets were last hit in July 2015, and the numbers continue to plummet.
So what is causing this scary statistic?
Is it a case of hypochondriacs running wild, or is the NHS buckling under pressure?
In a world where it’s easier to revert to Dr Google than wait weeks for an appointment with your GP, it’s no surprise that the NHS and A&E Departments are unable to handle the high demand, and it’s not about to get better in the upcoming weeks.
Dr Nick Scriven, of the Society of Acute Medicine said ‘hospitals are working flat out at the moment, and we have a looming spell of bank holidays, when many support services will not be functioning, heaping up the already relentless pressure.’
So it’s fair to say that it has not come as a surprise that the NHS is considering scrapping the waiting target altogether and trailling a new ‘rapid assessment’ measure.
Patients could soon be assessed the moment they walk through the door to prioritise the more critical conditions and ensure targets are met. It is not yet clear when these steps will be taken, but as it is unlikely the NHS will ever hit their four-hour target again, it will be an interesting development to watch unfold.