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Emergency waiting times: official figures grossly underestimate reality of patient experience – college

Truth about ED delays is masked by NHS England’s counting method, claims Royal College of Emergency Medicine 
Picture shows a nurse standing next to a woman lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor. The official NHS count of 12-hour waits at emergency d­­epartments in England underestimates the actual figure, says the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.

Truth about ED delays is masked by NHS Englands counting method, claims Royal College of Emergency Medicine

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours at emergency departments may be tens of thousands more than official figures suggest, believes the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

It says the official NHS count of 12-hour minimum waits across the UK masks the true picture. The RCEM is basing its claim on data it collected from 50 hospitals, starting at the beginning of October , that it believes revealed more than 38,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours for a bed.

Discrepancy across the UK in how 12-hour emergency waiting times are calculated

For the first

Truth about ED delays is masked by NHS England’s counting method, claims Royal College of Emergency Medicine 

Picture shows a nurse standing next to a woman lying on a trolley in a hospital corridor. The official NHS count of 12-hour waits at emergency d­­epartments in England underestimates the actual figure, says the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
Picture: Charles Milligan

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours at emergency departments may be tens of thousands more than official figures suggest, believes the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

It says the official NHS count of 12-hour minimum waits across the UK masks the true picture. The RCEM is basing its claim on data it collected from 50 hospitals, starting at the beginning of October, that it believes revealed more than 38,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours for a bed.

Discrepancy across the UK in how 12-hour emergency waiting times are calculated

For the first week of December more than 5,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours, the figures show. However, official NHS England data suggest that only 13,025 patients have waited longer than 12 hours in the past eight years – 2011/12.

NHS England – unlike in the rest of the UK – starts the clock when a decision to admit is made… meaning a patient could already have been waiting for hours’

Katherine Henderson, president, Royal College of Emergency Medicine

RCEM president Katherine Henderson said the difference in patient numbers lies in the way the data were reported.

NHS England data exclude a large volume of waiting patients

‘Our data measures the number of patients waiting over 12 hours from the moment they arrive at an ED, whereas NHS England – unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – starts the clock when a decision to admit is made – meaning a patient could already have been waiting for hours before this.

‘In a nine-week period at only a third of providers in the UK we’ve seen nearly three times the number of 12-hour waits than officially reported in eight years in England. This must be fixed.’

NHS England has been asked to comment.

Waiting times for patients in emergency departments in England were highlighted at the weekend by pictures of four-year-old Jack Williment-Barr lying on the floor at Leeds General Infirmary because of a lack of beds. He was checked for pneumonia but diagnosed with flu and discharged.


Find out more

Royal College of Emergency Medicine – RCEM Winter Flow Project. Analysis of the data so far: 6th December


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