‘Thousands more deaths in A&Es’ amid NHS crisis, Labour says

Ambulances outside a hospital emergency department (PA Wire)
Ambulances outside a hospital emergency department (PA Wire)

The number of people dying in A&E has risen by 30 per cent in four years, data shows, amid record waiting times for treatment.

Figures obtained by Labour through freedom of information requests showed there were more than 23,000 deaths in A&E in 2022.

It is a rise of 4,000 on the year before and 5,500 on the figure reported in 2019.

Separate figures show that more than 113,000 people waited more than the target 4 hours for treatment in A&E in April, while 27,000 were forced to waited more than 12 hours.

Waits of more than five hours to be admitted to A&E can significantly increase the risks of a patient dying or becoming seriously unwell, according to research published by the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Data provided by NHS trusts to Labour appears to confirm a total of 23,316 lives were lost in emergency departments - up from 19,122 in 2021 and 17,502 in 2019.

The figure for 2022 is a 30 per cent increase on 2018 when the figure was 17,830.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “People turning to the NHS in an emergency should know they will be seen and treated before it's too late. The Conservatives' failure over 13 years to properly staff or reform the NHS has a cost in lives.

“When Labour was last in government, patients in an emergency were treated in good time.

“It took 13 years for the Conservatives to break the NHS, it won't be fixed overnight. But it will be the mission of the next Labour government to build an NHS that is there for you when you need it once again.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), said the figures were shocking and concerning, and the system was clearly not working as it should.

“It is reassuring to see Labour committing to tackling the waiting time issue and we would urge all other parties to do the same; and to embed that commitment in their upcoming manifestos,” he said.

The Conservatives responded with counter-accusations over Labour's own record on meeting wait targets, with health minister Maria Caulfield saying: “The uncomfortable truth is where Labour are in power, the NHS is worse.

“In Wales, Labour have consistently failed to meet waiting targets since their introduction 14 years ago and caused higher excess death rates than in England.

“Meanwhile, we are delivering a record number of tests, speeding up discharge from hospitals, and cutting waiting lists as we also work to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt and stop the boats.”

The NHS experienced its worst ever winter crisis last year amid staffing shortages and a surge in flu and Strep A.

Suspected stroke patients in the capital waited an average of nearly an hour and a half for an ambulance in December, the worst figure on record.

In January, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) warned that delays to emergency care could be causing as many as 500 deaths per week, a figure disputed by NHS bosses.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has conceded that the pre-pandemic four-hour target - set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution - is no longer achievable.

Instead, the Government has established the interim goal that, by March 2024, three-quarters of A&E patients will be dealt with in four hours.

Currently around 70 per cent are seen in this time.