Figures published today showed a five-fold increase in the number suffering lengthy waits to be seen.
Between December 2016 and February 195,764 patients waited at least four hours to be admitted to hospital up from 40,791 in 2011/12.
It is the highest since records began and represents a sharp spike on the previous winter months when 134,576 patients missed the target.
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Nearly 200,000 patients were waiting at least four hours in A&E this winter
In 30 years of working within the NHS I have never known it to be so bad
Dr Ian Campbell
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth MP, commenting on the latest Combined Performance Summary from NHS England, said: “Yet again, these shocking figures present stark evidence of the ongoing crisis facing our NHS. On almost every measurement, this February is the worst February on record which is a damning indictment of the Tories’ record of failure on the NHS.
“Month after month, the Conservatives are missing key targets for cancer, ambulance response times and A&E waiting times. Hospitals remain overstretched and understaffed, and morale amongst our hard working staff continues to be challenged by the unprecedented pressures they regularly face.
“This Tory Government has failed to get a grip on the situation facing our NHS and it’s patients and staff who are paying the price. Labour is urging the Government to take immediate action so that we never face a winter crisis like this again.”
Dr Ian Campbell, a family GP from Nottingham, said: “At some point we are going to have to be up front about this: the NHS is failing. In 30 years of working within the NHS I have never known it to be so bad.
Shocking charts show the NHS could be in crisis Thu, February 9, 2017
Do these charts prove the NHS is in trouble?
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Despite what some politicians say, this is not about restructuring the NHS; it’s about funding.
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“Whether the focus is on queues at A&E, blocked beds on wards, poor provision of social care or GP’s leaving in their droves, each impacts on the other.
“The only solution, and it’s never been so urgent, is real investment by government.
"Not just paying lip service, but real money for a real crisis.”
Total emergency admissions to NHS hospitals in England rose from 1.3 million in winter 2011/12 to 1.44 million in 2016/17.
A total of 577,195 days were lost through delayed transfers of care from December to February
Extreme waiting times also reached record levels with almost 1,877 patients forced to wait at least 12 hours before being admitted to hospital from A&E, a huge jump on the year before when 375 people waited 12 hours or more.
The number of days lost to so-called “bed-blockers” also hit record levels in England this winter. A total of 577,195 days were lost through delayed transfers of care from December to February, compared with 471,780 in winter 2015/16.
Cancer referral rates were at their second lowest level on record with just 79.8 per cent of patients were seen within 62 days of an urgent GP referral, below the health service benchmark of 85 per cent. The lowest recorded level was 79.7 per cent in January.
Surgeons warned missed targets for planned surgery waiting times would worsen after NHS England removed the measure from its list of priorities.
By the end of February 90 per cent of patients on the waiting list had been there for less than 18 weeks, below the standard of 92 per cent.
This is a jump of 39 per cent since the same time last year – equivalent to 103,505 patients. Similarly, the number forced to wait more than a year for planned surgery rose to its highest level since August 2012, at 1,583.
Over 1,800 patients were forced to wait at least 12 hours before being admitted to hospital from A&E
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The Royal College of Surgeons said: “The NHS is under extreme pressure, trying to manage the huge financial strain while treating more and more patients.
"While we welcome some of the initiatives NHS England announced last month to help with pressures on planned operations, deprioritising the 18-week waiting time target for planned surgery risks undoing much of the progress the NHS has made on reducing long waiting times over the last decade.”
Richard Murray, Director of Policy at The King’s Fund, said: “These statistics for February offer the latest evidence of NHS performance continuing to struggle.
"Although February saw some improvements as winter pressures began to ease, the NHS is still failing to meet key targets such as A&E and cancer waiting times.”
NHS England said: “February was the first month this year where A&E performance returned to similar levels to a year ago and diagnostic waits were the lowest in three years.”