NHS hospitals are a “horror show” with deadly ambulance and A&E delays smashing previous records.
Stroke and heart attack patients waited a shocking hour-and-a-half for an ambulance, on average, in December – five times the 18-minute target.
No 10 slammed the mammoth waits as “obviously not acceptable”.
Unions and charities warned ministers, who face a tide of further NHS strikes this month, to act fast because people are dying.
The surgery wait list fell for the first time since the Covid pandemic began, but only by 30,000 patients, meaning it remains stubbornly above seven million.
Siva Anandaciva, from the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “There is no shying away from the reality that the NHS is deep in crisis.”
Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper added: “Thousands of excess deaths, millions on waiting lists and hours until an ambulance arrives – this is a horror show.”
NHS statistics show patients now have a 50/50 chance of spending longer than four hours in A&E, with just 49.6 per cent seen in that time at major hospitals.
It is a record low and comes as top priority ambulance callouts took nearly 11 minutes to arrive last month – a record high.
In the South West, Category 1 delays stretched to 13:19 and Category 2 – including strokes, heart attacks and burns – to a staggering two hours and 39 minutes.
A spokesperson for the South Western Ambulance Service said: “We are working with our partners in the NHS and social care to do all we can to improve the service that patients receive.”
Juliet Bouverie OBE, chief of the Stroke Association, said: “Every minute waited is a shortened chance of survival or weeks more rehab.
“These delays are causing severe disability and even death.”
Life-or-death ambulance incidents rocketed to 101,099 last month – compared to the previous record of 85,392 – as fatalities soared over the Christmas period.
The Royal College of Nursing, which will hold a two-day strike next week, said: “What we are hearing from the frontline beggars belief.”
Director Patricia Marquis said: “Nurses are being booked to work in hospital corridors and others are buying Ikea hooks so intravenous drips can be attached to the corridor wall.”
It came as Health Secretary Steve Barclay met with junior doctors’ union reps today to try and head off a British Medical Association strike in March.
The BMA joins more than a dozen NHS unions pressing ministers to increase staff pay and take more action to ease pressure on the health service.
Professor Philip Banfield said: “Doctors feel that we’ve been driven to this position because no-one is listening to us about how unsafe the health service is becoming.”
PM Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said yesterday: “The NHS is under huge pressure following the pandemic.
“It’s obviously not acceptable and we are very focused.
“One of the Prime Minister’s top priorities is to further improve the performance of the NHS.”
NHS medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis added: “As staff responded to record A&E attendances, 999 calls and emergency ambulance call outs, they also continued to deliver for patients with more people than ever before receiving diagnostic tests and cancer treatment.”
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