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NHS care delays led to 112 deaths, harmed 8,000 people in England last year

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The number of patients dying due to care delays have risen more than fivefold over the last three years

Long waits for an ambulance or surgery led to the death of 112 people, and nearly 8,000 more people suffered harm while waiting for help in England last year.

The data from NHS England, obtained by The Guardian, show that patient deaths arising directly from care delays have risen more than fivefold over the last three years.

In 2019, there were 21 patient deaths due to NHS care delays, and 96 people suffered “severe harm” as compared to 152 last year.

Adult mental health care was mostly affected with 471 patients experiencing harm due to delays, followed by childbirth care (253), eye problems (221), and trauma and general surgery (207).

There has been increase of 97 percent in the overall number of people suffering some degree of harm, from 3,979 in 2019 to 7,856 in 2022.

Speaking to The Guardian, Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said that the alarming data clearly shows “the human impact the crisis in the NHS is having on individual patients.”

Power added that they have repeatedly warned the health service about the threat to patient safety because of care delays, which she described as “a disaster unfolding across the NHS.”

Following the government’s refusal to provide a £1bn bailout to help cover the cost of staff strikes, trusts are reducing planned surgeries, creating a ripple effect on patient care.

Power is concerned that this would lead to even more patients waiting for care and potentially coming to harm.

The publication also received anonymous details of 30 deaths last year delays due to delay in emergency response, including a cardiac arrest patient who died after waiting 18 minutes for an ambulance call response.

In another case, a cancer patient who developed hepatitis B also died due to lack of follow-up care.

The figures are recorded at the NHS’s national reporting and learning system (NRLS), which The Guardian was able to obtain through a freedom of information (FoI) request to NHS England.

However, these figures likely underestimate the problem, the publication reported, citing  A&E doctors estimates, which say 500 people a week may be dying because of NHS care delays.

It also cited that calculation made by ambulance service bosses which revealed that 6,000 people were exposed to “severe harm” in December 2022 alone.

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