A&E waiting times are at their worst level since records began, official figures reveal.
Experts said the NHS was in the grip of an ‘eternal winter’ and many hospitals are still struggling to cope.
Across England, only 84.5 per cent of patients arriving in A&E were seen within the target four hours.
This is the worst since records began in 2004 and even lower than January and February, which were extremely busy.
A&E waiting times are at their worst level since records began, official figures reveal
And at some hospitals more than a third of patients turning up in A&E wait four or more hours to be seen.
The latest monthly data from NHS England also shows that waiting times for routine operations are at their highest since 2004.
More than 15 per cent of patients needing procedures including hip and knee replacements are now waiting longer than 18 weeks.
Many of these patients are in extreme pain and have had operations cancelled several times, as hospitals needed to free up beds.
The figures have prompted concern among healthcare leaders as hospitals normally quieten down in spring, allowing staff to ‘catch up’.
But there has been no such let-up this year, partly due to very cold weather and higher-than-normal flu rates.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, which represents hospital staff, said: ‘These stark figures are the clearest indication yet of the eternal winter we now face in the NHS and this should be a turning point in how we approach all planning from now on.
WHAT DID THE NHS FIGURES TODAY SHOW?
RECORD LOWS IN A&E
The shocking figures show that, across England, just 84.6 cent of patients – 315,000 of them – were seen within four hours of entering A&E.
This is lower than the 95 per cent recommended – and lower than the 85 per cent recorded in February, which was the previous worst month.
More than 75,000 patients who arrived at A&E last month languished on trolleys for up to 12 hours, according to the NHS England data.
Some 850 were stuck on trolleys for longer than 12 hours – an amount only topped during the peak of the winter crisis in January 2017 and in 2018.
SOARING WAITS FOR TREATMENT
Separate figures also show the number of patients having to wait more than a year for treatment has gone over 2,000 for the first time in six years.
Just 87.9 per cent of patients started planned treatment within 18 weeks – meaning 454,000 faced waits longer than recommended.
Government targets ask 92 per cent of all patients to begin treatment within 18 weeks – but this has now not been met in two years.
‘As we settle into spring, hospitals remain under immense pressure and I am unsure how on earth we are going to catch up with elective surgery given some non-urgent operations continue to be cancelled in parts of the country.’
Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: ‘It’s now clearer than ever that we face a year-round crisis in our NHS, which places the very future of our NHS at risk and requires a sustainable long term investment plan.’
The figures from NHS England also show that some of the largest hospitals in the country are faring particularly badly.
The worst waiting times are at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh, in Lancashire where 36 per cent of patients waited four or more hours in March.
They were only marginally better at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, where 35.5 per cent waited four or more hours.
Many hospitals are having to cancel routine operations to free up beds for patients arriving in A&E.
They include Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, which declared a major incident two weeks ago and postponed cancer surgery.
Ananda Nanu, president of the British Orthopaedic Association, which represents doctors carrying out surgery on the bones, said: ‘Elective surgery is not optional surgery.
‘Many patients suffering with arthritis are in significant pain, which severely affects their quality of life and their ability to perform the simple activities of daily living. Leaving patients waiting in pain for treatment longer than is clinically necessary is not acceptable.’
The shocking figures show that, across England, just 84.6 cent of patients – 315,000 of them – were seen within four hours of entering A&E in March
Mr Ian Eardley, of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘Despite better planning this winter and staff going above and beyond to help patients, the NHS has once again faced intense pressure.
‘Having an operation or treatment cancelled is very distressing for patients, who are often in pain or discomfort, and it can cause their condition to deteriorate, potentially making treatment more complicated.’