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The Smooth Sanctuary With Paul Phear 6pm - 10pm
8 March 2018, 10:00
This winter has been confirmed as the most pressurised on record in the NHS, with accident and emergency performance falling to the lowest-ever level last month.
In February just 85% of patients were seen, assessed or discharged within four hours in NHS England hospitals, the worst performance since the target of seeing 95% patients in that time was introduced 14 years ago.
The previous worst figure of 85.1% was recorded in December.
With 85.3% of patients seen within four hours in January, it means the three lowest-ever figures for the NHS's headline target came in the last three months.
With cold weather for much of February peaking last week, more than 1.8 million people attended A&E;, up 5% on the same month last year. Attendances were also up in January and December.
The NHS struggled to meet targets despite 22,800 more elective or non-urgent operations and procedures being postponed to help hospitals deal with pressure. NHS England said it freed up 1,400 beds.
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Statistics for last week also underlined the challenges posed by cold weather, with bed occupancy running at 95.2%, its highest level all winter, an increase in ambulance diverts away from A&E; departments, and more than 11,000 people facing ambulance handover delays of more than 30 minutes.
A spokesperson for NHS England said: "NHS staff continued to work hard in February in the face of a 'perfect storm' of appalling weather, persistently high flu hospitalisations and a renewed spike in norovirus.
"Despite a challenging winter, the NHS treated 160,000 more A&E; patients within four hours this winter, compared with the previous year.
"The NHS also treated a record number of cancer patients over these most pressured months of the year."
The figures drew criticism from staff groups and opposition parties, with shadow health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth calling for an inquiry into the winter crisis.
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He said: "Performance has fallen back under pressure despite NHS England insisting it was better prepared than ever for this winter and the Government providing £335m in emergency funding in the Budget."
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said it was calling on patients to write to their MPs asking for action to address the serious challenges facing A&E; departments.
It said the "unprecedented move" was in response to the figures, which also showed the worst ever performance of 76.9% at major emergency departments.
"Performance that once would have been regarded as utterly unacceptable has now become normal and things are seemingly only getting worse for patients," said its President Dr Taj Hussan.
"Let's be very clear - the current crisis in our emergency departments and in the wider NHS is not the fault of patients," he added.
"It is not because staff aren't working hard enough, not because of the actions of individual trusts, not because of the weather or norovirus, not purely because of influenza, immigration or inefficiencies and not because performance targets are unfeasible.
"The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis."
Health think tank The King's Fund warned that without extra funding the NHS faces an "inexorable drift" back to waiting times last seen in the 1990s.
Richard Murray, director of policy, said: "Coming in the midst of the longest funding squeeze in the history of the NHS and growing staffing shortages, the crisis we are seeing in our A&Es; was sadly predictable.
"Unless the government finds significantly more money for the NHS, we face an inexorable drift back to the long waiting times we saw in the 1990s.
"The NHS cannot continue to rely on the motivation and goodwill of staff to paper over the cracks."
(c) Sky News 2018: NHS: A&E; suffers its worst month on record as 85% of patients seen in time