More than 23,000 patients died in A&E last year, Labour claims

More than 23,000 people died in A&E in England in 2022 amid record waiting times, Labour has claimed.

Figures obtained by the party through freedom of information requests showed there were 4,000 more deaths in emergency departments last year than in 2021 and 5,500 more than in 2019.

Some 113,000 patients waited longer than the four-hour target in April this year while 27,000 patients were kept longer than 12 hours – with the Opposition blaming “Tory failure” to tackle increasing pressures faced by the health service.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has previously said 23,000 “excess patient deaths” may have occurred in part due to A&E delays in England in 2022.

It warned that long waiting times can have “catastrophic consequences for patient safety and mortality”.

Data provided by NHS trusts to Labour appears to confirm a total of 23,316 lives were lost in emergency departments – up from 19,122 in 2021 and 17,502 in 2019.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “People turning to the NHS in an emergency should know they will be seen and treated before it’s too late. The Conservatives’ failure over 13 years to properly staff or reform the NHS has a cost in lives.

“When Labour was last in government, patients in an emergency were treated in good time.

Health secretary Steve Barclay
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the four-hour target was no longer achievable (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“It took 13 years for the Conservatives to break the NHS, it won’t be fixed overnight. But it will be the mission of the next Labour government to build an NHS that is there for you when you need it once again.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the figures were shocking and concerning, and the system was clearly not working as it should.

“It is reassuring to see Labour committing to tackling the waiting time issue and we would urge all other parties to do the same; and to embed that commitment in their upcoming manifestos,” he said.

The Conservatives responded with counter-accusations over Labour’s own record on meeting wait targets, with health minister Maria Caulfield saying: “The uncomfortable truth is where Labour are in power, the NHS is worse.

“In Wales, Labour have consistently failed to meet waiting targets since their introduction 14 years ago and caused higher excess death rates than in England.

“Meanwhile, we are delivering a record number of tests, speeding up discharge from hospitals, and cutting waiting lists as we also work to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt and stop the boats.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay conceded in January the pre-pandemic four-hour target – set out in the Handbook to the NHS Constitution – was no longer achievable.

As part of its attempts to improve urgent and emergency care, the Government has established the less ambitious interim goal that by March 2024, 76% of A&E patients will be dealt with in four hours.

Currently around 70% are seen in this time and the official target is 95%.