The King’s Fund report has revealed that waiting times in A&E departments have started rising at a steep rate and have reached their highest level in seven years.
The government targets for indicate that no more than 5% of patients should wait more than 4hours in an A&E department before being seen by a doctor. In the last year, the coalition government have increased it from 2% to allow doctors more leeway when prioritising sick patients.
Whilst the current figures are still within target, they indicate that waiting times are going up. The proportion of people waiting in A&E for over 4 hours has risen from 3.4% in the first quarter of last year to 4.2% this year.
The report suggests that the rising waiting times could be linked to how doctors are prioritising those who are unwell.
However, the report also argues that the rising waiting times also indicate how hospital budgets are being squeezed and that the steep rise should be of concern to the government.
A spokesperson for the College of Emergency Medicine said: “The A&E waiting times are a reflection of how the whole system is working. The pressure on beds is increasing and this in part may account for the increasing reporting of overcrowding of departments.”
The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley argued that the increase in waiting times was a result of the extra flexibility that hospitals have over prioritising sick patients and it was wrong to suggest that there was a problem.