A leading doctor has warned patients’ lives are being put at risk by dangerously high A&E waiting times, which are the worst on record.
And with fears this year’s winter crisis could be the bleakest yet, medics are worried the NHS casualty system is “imploding”.
Just 83.6% of A&E patients were admitted within four hours last month, way below the recommended 95%. That target has not been met since July 2015, according to NHS statistics.
Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Katherine Henderson said: “A crowded department is an unsafe department.
"We believe crowding in an emergency department has a direct effect on mortality.”
Dr Nick Scriven of the Society of Acute Medicine added: “These figures are truly worrying as we haven’t even reached the ‘traditional’ winter period yet.”
Tory cuts have been blamed for the crisis, with staffing levels badly hit, leaving stretched doctors and nurses struggling to cope.
Jeremy Corbyn branded the waiting time figures “disgraceful”.
He said: “That’s one in five of everyone accessing an A&E department hasn’t been seen within the required four hours. It is a problem of the lack of staff and the lack of funding for it.”
And Nuffield Trust think-tank chief economist Professor John Appleby said he fears things will only get worse.
He added: “These figures show the next government will immediately be faced with one of the bleakest winters in the NHS’s history.
“If this trend keeps going, I fear we could see 100,000 people stuck on trolleys this coming January.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Conservatives have ushered in the worst NHS crisis on record.
“Under Boris Johnson the NHS is in crisis and we’re heading for a winter of abject misery for patients.
“The Tories spent a decade cutting over 15,000 beds. Now they should apologise to every patient languishing on a trolley and waiting longer for treatment.”
Emma Driver, whose dad Duncan died after falling off a trolley following a six-hour wait last month, told how she “relives that horrific moment every day”.
She said: “There’s not a lot of people who will speak out but I’m not going to stand aside and let people think this is OK.”
The 83.6% figure compares to 85.2% in September and 89.1% in October last year.
It meant more than 80,000 patients were left waiting over four hours after doctors had decided they needed a bed. And more than 720 waited over 12 hours for a bed.
The 85% target to start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral is also being missed. Just 76.9% of patients started therapy in September.
The NHS deals with more than a million patients every 36 hours, and the total number waiting has now hit 4.4 million, a 5.7% rise on September last year.
But the service has 100,000 vacancies, including a shortage of 40,000 nurses. A daily average of 4,979 beds were occupied by patients waiting for discharge in September 2019, the figures show.
More than one in five of those delays was as a result of elderly and frail patients waiting for a care package to be set up at home.
Social care is also in crisis thanks to Tory underfunding and savage cuts of £7billion.
Dr Henderson said: “We are clear in emergency departments that we need to see a lot more money going into social care.”
Since 2010, the NHS has endured the longest period of austerity in its history.
Budgets rose by 1.5% a year between 2009/10 to 2018/19, compared to the 3.7% since the service started in 1948. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock faced ridicule when he claimed “in some ways the NHS is performing better than ever”.
He blamed the increase in waiting times on a rise in demand.
A spokesman for NHS England said: “These figures show that while NHS staff are looking after a markedly higher number of older and sicker patients, a higher number of patients are being seen quickly than a year ago.”