'Misery' for A&E patients facing record-long waits
In terms of A&E pressures the lack of staff at a number of smaller acute rural trusts clearly drives this difficult agenda. This story tells us
Patients needing emergency care have faced a "miserable" time, doctors say, as data shows record-long delays in England in the past month.
Hospitals reported huge pressures in December, with one in five A&E patients waiting over four hours.
A key problem seems to have been a shortage of beds on wards.
Nearly 100,000 of the sickest patients were forced to spend over four hours on trolleys and in corridors after their time in A&E as beds could not be found.
Delays were also experienced by those brought in by ambulances.
One in six crews had to queue outside A&E units for more than 30 minutes, waiting to handover patients to hospital staff - the target is 15.
Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Katherine Henderson said: "The NHS is struggling to escape its spiral of decline.
"This will have been a miserable Christmas period for many patients and staff alike."
NHS medical director Prof Stephen Powis said it had been a "very busy" period, compounded by an earlier outbreak of flu than had happened in previous winters.
He said the health service was looking to recruit more staff and open more beds to help relieve pressure in the future.
In the meantime, hospitals have been forced to take emergency steps to relieve pressure.
Many have postponed routine operations to try to free up space.