The long-term failure of the NHS to meet the waiting time target for accident and emergency performance in England is a symptom of the strain services are under, unions have claimed.
The four-hour waiting time target for A&E has been missed for the 26th week in a row, according to latest figures published by NHS England.
For quarter four of 2014-15 – January to March – 440,961 patients waited longer than four hours in A&E overall. This is equivalent to 91.8% compared to the target, which is 95%.
They are the worst on record since the first quarter of 2004, when the target was first introduced.
Commenting on the latest figures, Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “Week in week out, for half a year now, the waiting times target has been missed.
“It’s bad enough that some sick and injured people were having to wait for more than four hours in the depths of winter – a time when demand on the NHS was at its peak,” she said.
“But for that still to be the case now that spring is here shows just how stretched A&E departments have become,” she added.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “These figures demonstrate what nurses have been telling us for some time – the so-called winter pressures are now lasting all year round.
“The ongoing strain on A&E departments is a symptom of problems elsewhere in the health service and it cannot be solved in isolation,” he said.
“A&Es are seeing more patients than ever before and this will continue to be the case unless there is sustained investment in community services, and a reversal of the cuts to staff like district nurses, who keep patients out of hospitals,” he added.