More than 1.4 million people attended A&E in October, the third highest number of attendance on record, compared to 1.38 million in the same month in 2019.
“The situation is unacceptable, unsustainable and unsafe for patients and staff. Political and health leaders must realise that if performance continues to fall this winter: more and more patients will come to avoidable harm in the Emergency Department; staff will face moral injury; and the urgent and emergency care system will be deep into the worst crisis it has faced,” Dr Boyle said.
Pressures on emergency care are also being felt in ambulance services, after an injured elderly woman was rushed to hospital on a bus because the local ambulance service was too busy to attend.
The woman fell and hit her head while trying to board the bus in Falmouth, Cornwall, but after phoning 999 an operator said it could take three to four hours for an ambulance to arrive.
Bus driver Tamsin Fowles decided to reroute the service and take the woman to A&E at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro.
South Western Ambulance Service told Cornwall Council on Wednesday that it was facing “intolerable” delays transferring patients to hospitals due to a lack of bed space.
In the same report the ambulance service said it had seen an increase in demand over the last few months.
In south-east London, a 70-year-old man died of a suspected heart attack after an ambulance took almost 70 minutes to respond to his daughter’s 999 call.
The target average time to reach such a call is 18 minutes. The London Ambulance Service has said it is investigating their response to the incident which occurred on November 1.
“The emotional trauma of witnessing this and desperately trying to save his life, knowing he was seriously let down, is overwhelming,” his daughter, who did not want to be named, said.
Separately, patients were urged to “take themselves to A&E” after an ambulance service declared a critical incident following an IT failure.
South East Coast Ambulance Service Trust said on Wednesday morning it had experienced a “significant IT issue overnight”.
Tom Pullen, an operations manager at the service, urged patients to “only call 999 for a life threatening emergency”.
“Alternatives include taking yourself to A&E or calling your GP,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Trust said contingency plans had been implemented, including receiving support from other ambulance trusts, and people should continue to call 999 if they are facing a serious emergency.
It did not respond to this newspaper’s requests about what had caused the issue.
Nine hours after the trust first reported the issue it said the systems were coming “back online” but “further periods of testing in the coming hours” were needed.
An NHS spokesperson said: “As set out in our 10 point plan, the NHS is maximising the availability of urgent care services to provide alternatives to A&E so anyone who needs care should come forward through NHS 111 Online so staff can help sign post you to the best option for you.”
‘Staff are working extremely hard’
In a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning, the Trust said: “Following a significant IT issue overnight, we have declared a Critical Incident this morning – 17 Nov 2021.
“Staff are working extremely hard as we continue to respond to patients. We would ask that you consider alternatives to 999, inc NHS 111 online, unless absolutely essential.”
It is the second IT incident to affect ambulance services in as many weeks. The East of England Ambulance Service Trust declared a critical incident last week after its phone lines and IT systems failed.
In a message to staff, reported by the Eastern Daily Press, the trust said the issue left a “significant number” of 999 calls “outstanding/uncovered”.