Ambulance handover delays are down, and hospital bed availability is rising, according to the latest NHS figures.
in a new low for this winter period20% of ambulance patients waited at least 30 minutes last week to be handed over to accident and emergency teams – down from 23% in the week before.
It reached a high of 44% in the week to 1 January.
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The number of patients waiting more than an hour to be handed over hit 7% – down from 9% the week before.
Though despite the positive move, the data is still worse at this time of year than any other year we have data for.
More than 13,500 hospital beds in England last week were filled with people who were fit to leave, although the number is down on recent record levels.
An average of 13,566 beds were taken up with medically fit patients in the seven days to 22 January, down from 14,036 the previous week and an all-time high of 14,069 in the week to 8 January.
At this point last year, the number stood at 12,819.
On flu patients, the number in hospital has dropped by two-thirds since the previous week, with an average of 2,034 people in a bed each day last week – down 63%.
However, that’s a huge year-on-year rise. Last year’s figure was just 36.
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Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive at NHS Providers, the membership organization for NHS trusts in England, praised the “remarkable progress” made in reducing handover delays, but warned there is still “relentless” pressure on urgent and emergency care services.
“As trust leaders prepare for the biggest NHS staff walkout in less than two weeks, they are having to grapple with unsafe levels of bed occupancy, with 93.8% of general and acute ward beds taken up each day last week,” she said.
“Patients are staying longer in hospital than they were this time last year, often because their illnesses are more serious, while delayed discharge remains very high. This is partly due to the lack of investment in capacity in social care and community services.
“All of these stresses are impacting care right through the system, including ambulances, hospital A&ES, mental health and community services.”
There were also fewer NHS staff absences in the week to 22 January than any other this winter.
49,260 staff were absent each day on average, compared with more than 60,000 through the middle of December and 52,960 last week.
4,144 (8.4%) were because of COVID – the lowest it’s been this winter.
It was 8,029 (12.7%) in the week to Christmas Day (the highest it’s been this year), and 5,077 (9.6%) last week.
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Professor Julian Redhead, NHS England national clinical director for urgent and emergency care, said: “These new figures show that while there have been improvements in ambulance handovers and fewer flu patients in hospital, the NHS remains under significant pressure.
“Last week saw more people being taken to A&E by ambulance, bed occupancy is still constrained, and illnesses like flu and norovirus are still a very real concern.
“The NHS has done extensive preparation for this winter, including rolling out extra beds, a national falls services and nationwide 24/7 control centers to track and manage demand, and NHS staff are working flat-out to continue to provide the best care for our patients in the face of ongoing pressures.”
The data comes amid waves of strike action in the NHS, with tens of thousands of staff expected to take industrial action on 6 February, in what is likely to be the biggest day of strikes ever for the service.
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