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Emergency department waiting times increase

Author: Abigail Frudd

The government target for waiting times at accident and emergency departments is that 95% of patients should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

To put this in perspective, over 40,000 people per day attended a major accident and emergency department from 2015-2016. Of this 40,000 the level seen within four hours was 87.9%, some way short of the government target.  However, regionally, there are huge differences between NHS Trust results ranging from 64% up to 99%.

The reasons for the increase in waiting times are not simply a shortage of beds but also financial challenges, patient demographics and poor performance as a result of inadequate systems. The rates for those waiting less than 4 hours vary across the UK with Scotland almost reaching target at 93.3%, England 87.9%, Wales 77.7% and Northern Ireland 71.7%.

In an additional pressure on already over stretched NHS Trusts they are subject to a fine of £120 per patient waiting longer than 4 hours (outside certain allowances per trust) and in total up to 15% of patients seen. All of these difficulties have come to a head in winter when demand for services is at its peak; those seeking help are more likely to have complex medical and social needs and that there is therefore a shortage of beds as more are taken up with patients who could otherwise be treated in the community.

Part of the problem may be that people are accessing emergency care instead of the more appropriate routes of GP, walk in centre, NHS 111 telephone service or pharmacy.

See NHS guidance for more details.

Accessing medical services

999 – Call only if someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk

NHS 111 – Call if you urgently need medical help or advice, but it is not a life-threatening situation. You can also call NHS 111 if you are unsure which NHS service you need

Walk-in centre, minor injuries unit or urgent care centre – if you have a minor illness or injury, for example, cuts, sprains or rashes, and it can’t wait until your GP surgery is open

Local pharmacist – as your pharmacist for advice on many common minor illnesses, such as diarrhoea, minor infections, headache, travel advice or sore throats

GP – make an appointment with your GP if you are feeling unwell and it is not an emergency

If you feel that you have received inadequate treatment at Accident and Emergency due to delays, contact our medical negligence specialists to discuss your concerns, in total confidence. Call 01302 320621 or email