It's been the worst ever winter for the NHS, admits Hunt: Health Secretary apologises to patients ... .

Emergency medicine

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  • Hunt said services had been put under strain by the worst flu outbreak in years
  • Some 81,000 patients waited more than four hours for a bed to become available
  • Public Health England warned flu levels remain high but are stabilising
The Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt today accepted that it has been 'very, very tough' on the NHS

The Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt today accepted that it has been 'very, very tough' on the NHS

The NHS has endured its worst ever winter, Jeremy Hunt admitted last night.

The Health and Social Care Secretary apologised to patients and said frontline services had been put under enormous strain by the worst flu outbreak in seven years.

He said the outbreak has been ‘very, very tough’ on frontline staff but stopped short of apologising to them.

‘When they signed up to go into medicine, they knew there would be pressurised moments,’ he said. ‘I take responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS,’ he told ITV News. ‘I apologise to patients when we haven’t delivered the care that we should.’

The extent of the winter crisis engulfing the NHS was laid bare yesterday with record numbers of patients left languishing on trolleys. Official figures revealed:

  • January was the busiest on record with more than half a million emergency admissions.
  • More than 1,000 patients had to endure waits of over 12 hours on a trolley.
  • Some 81,000 patients were left waiting more than four hours for a bed to become available.
  • The four-hour wait performance at major A&Es was the worst ever.
  • All casualties missed waiting time targets for the 30th month in a row.
  • Public Health England warned flu levels remain high but are stabilising.

Hospitals are creaking at the seams despite measures to relieve pressure including postponing thousands of operations and outpatient appointments. NHS England data showed only 85.3 per cent of patients were seen within four hours across all A&Es, well below the Government’s target of 95 per cent.

It was the 30th month in a row that the target was missed but marked a slight improvement on December.

Of the two million patients seen at A&E last month, 1.7million were treated within four hours, up more than 5 per cent on the same period last year. Officials cited the figures as proof the system has coped in spite of the enormous strain caused by the worst flu season in seven years.

Some 81,000 patients were left waiting more than four hours for a bed to become available

Some 81,000 patients were left waiting more than four hours for a bed to become available

But John Appleby, of independent health charity Nuffield Trust, said: ‘A year ago we warned that corridors had become the new emergency wards. It is deeply concerning that 12 months on the position has worsened, with many harrowing reports of patients treated in corridors by stressed and overworked staff.’

The busiest ‘Type 1’ emergency departments which see around 70 per cent of patients recorded the worst ever performance for four-hour waits at 77.1 per cent.

Last month NHS chiefs ordered hospitals to postpone thousands of non-urgent operations and outpatient appointments to relieve some of the ‘extreme and sustained’ pressure. But frontline staff warned this was not enough and there could be worse to come.

United nations of NHS: 1 in 8 staff from abroad

One in every eight staff members in the NHS is foreign, official figures reveal.

The data lays bare the health service’s huge reliance on doctors, nurses, cleaners and porters from other nations.

The figures, included in a briefing paper by the House of Commons Library, reveal that staff of 202 different nationalities make up the NHS workforce.

Of the 1.2 million staff, 976,288 are British – 87.5 per cent of the workforce. That leaves 137,000, or 12.5 per cent, of foreign nationality, made up of 62,000 EU nationals and 75,000 from the rest of the world.

The data lays bare the health service¿s huge reliance on doctors, nurses, cleaners and porters from other nations

The data lays bare the health service’s huge reliance on doctors, nurses, cleaners and porters from other nations

The report dismisses fears that the Brexit vote of June 2016 would lead to an exodus of European staff. ‘The percentage of EU staff has changed little since the referendum,’ it said.

It even seems to suggest a rise in foreign staff from 11.1 per cent in 2009, although the report authors admit many staff did not reveal their country of origin for the older study. Experts have previously criticised health bosses for being over-reliant on overseas staff, accusing the Government of a ‘fundamental failure’ in workforce planning.

The NHS is most reliant on other countries for the provision of doctors. Some 36 per cent gained their medical qualification outside the UK, half of whom qualified in Asia.

Foreign doctors and nurses have to pass language tests to work in the NHS. But health officials last year made tests for foreign nurses easier, because so many were being turned away due to their poor English.

The NHS Providers organisation, which represents hospitals and ambulance trusts, says a failure to train enough doctors and nurses lay behind the reliance on foreign staff.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said ‘patients are being made to pay for inadequate resources and continued underfunding’.

Royal College of Nursing chief executive Janet Davies said: ‘Distressing scenes of frail elderly people in corridors on trolleys have become an all too familiar sight this winter. Nursing staff do not want to provide this kind of undignified care and it is pushing people to quit the NHS.’

An NHS England spokesman said: ‘Despite the worst flu season in seven years, A&E performance was better in January than both the month before and the same time last winter.

Hospitals are jeopardising the recovery of hip fracture patients by forcing them to wait up to three months for a physiotherapist visit.

Vulnerable patients risk loss of mobility – or fatal infections – if they are not properly monitored at home. But research by the Royal College of Physicians showed that while the average wait for rehabilitation after a broken hip was 15 days, some patients had to wait up to 80 days.

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