Long A&E waits contributed to 23,000 excess deaths in 2022, a study by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has suggested.
The college claims its analysis shows that last year 1.66 million people were left waiting for more than 12 hours in A&E from the moment they walked in.
It added long waiting times can have “catastrophic consequences for patient safety and mortality”.
The RCEM sent freedom of information (FOI) requests to the NHS, in an effort to uncover the number of people who waited for more than 12 hours from when they stepped into A&E, which it found to be 1,656,296 patients, then worked out the mortality rates linked to long waits.
A mortality ratio looks at whether a specific population are more, or less, or just as likely to die compared to the general population.
The RCEM performed the analysis by using data from an Emergency Medicine Journal study from 2021, which linked excess deaths to long A&E waits in England between 2016 and 2018, and concluded there was one extra death for every 72 patients that spent eight to 12 hours in the emergency department.
Using the mortality ratio from the previous study, as well as the figure given by the NHS, the college estimated that there had been 23,003 excess deaths in 2022 in England, linked to long A&E waits.
The study used data from 2016 and 2018, which means the figures may not be comparable with 2022.
NHS England said that the figures were “very unlikely to give a full or certain picture” on excess deaths.
Read more on the NHS:
Sir Rod Stewart pays for patients’ scans
NHS staff distress revealed by watchdog
Public support for UK government’s handling of NHS in England drops to new low
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “These data, while shocking, are unsurprising.
“Long waiting times are associated with serious patient harm and patient deaths – the scale shown here for 2022 is deeply distressing.
“The data show how necessary it is to have transparent figures.
“We believe that being honest with the data will be a service to patients and staff.”
An NHS England (NHSE) spokesperson said: “The cause of excess deaths is down to a number of different factors and so attributing deaths to one exact thing as the figures quoted by the RCEM attempt to do, is very unlikely to give a full or certain picture – it therefore would not be appropriate for NHSE to recognise these as fact, and it is right that the experts at the ONS – as the executive branch of the statistics authority – continue to analyse excess deaths.
“The recently published UEC Recovery Plan sets out targets to achieve a four-hour performance of 76% by March 2024, and publish accurate 12-hour waits from time of arrival.