The NHS is facing yet another ‘challenging winter’ that’s set to be even worse than last year’s record-breaking season.
The warning comes after a ‘difficult summer’, with new figures revealing the strain placed on staff and services.
A quarter of a million more people went to A&E between July and September compared to the same time last year, NHS Improvement said.
As a result, patients waiting for planned treatment faced even more delays.
The figures sparked a warning from Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS services, who said they ‘reflect a very difficult summer for trusts and their staff’.
He said: ‘Once again, trusts have delivered a heroic performance, treating more patients than ever before within the A&E target, improving discharge rates and continuing to deliver stretching levels of financial savings.
‘But the reality is that, however hard trusts work, they cannot currently keep up with the growth in demand for care.
‘All trusts are warning that, despite improvements, this coming winter is likely to be more challenging than the last.
‘We have to be honest about the demand and workforce pressures in front of us and what it will take to meet these challenges.
‘And we have to stop setting trusts overambitious performance and financial targets that they cannot meet, despite best efforts.’
Between July and September, there were 940 more emergency admissions a day compared to last year – a total rise of 4.3%.
The number of people waiting more than a year for treatment at the end of September has risen from 1,778 a year ago to 3,156.
NHS staff also treated more emergency patients within the four-hour A&E standard – 5.52 million patients, compared with 5.34 million for the previous quarter, the report found.
Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: ‘The NHS is working flat out to ensure record numbers of patients get the care they need. Frontline staff and managers deserve tremendous praise for their heroism.
‘But this achievement continues to come at a cost with performance targets not being met nationally and hospitals being unable to balance their books to cover the increased demand on their services.’