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A&Es start to feel winter pressure
Dame Barbara Hakin, NHS England's Chief Operating Officer, says it is disappointing patients are waiting longer than they should in A&E
Hospitals have struggled to meet the four-hour treatment time in accident and emergency departments for the first time since April as winter pressures start to bite.
Last week, 94.8% of NHS patients in England were treated within the target time of four hours.
It is the first time that emergency departments, including minor injuries units and urgent care centres, have missed the 95% target since April, NHS England figures show.
Waiting times were worst in major A&E wards where just 92.2% of patients were seen within four hours.
Across England, 3,678 patients were forced to wait between four and 12 hours for treatment.
And five patients were not seen for more than 12 hours, the figures show.
Last week, hospitals treated more than 415,000 patients in A&E - 3,500 patients more than the previous week.
Dame Barbara Hakin, chief operating officer for NHS England, said: "It is of course disappointing that any patient has to wait longer than they should in A&E; however, we are now seeing many more patients than ever before.
"Last week was the busiest so far this year, with 415,400 attendances and 105,800 emergency admissions - the highest number of emergency admissions since we started collecting data in November 2010.
"We know the A&E standard is ambitious and that is only right. This is the first week since April the 95% standard has not been met; however, we do know that sometimes this will happen. Every year we see a dip in the figures for December, with week-on-week variations, which is why we fully assess how local systems are coping with winter pressures over a longer period.
"We knew this winter would be difficult but it is important to stress the NHS continues to deliver a good service, with 94.8% of people going to hospital for urgent care this week treated, admitted or discharged within four hours. This is thanks to the hard work and dedication of our frontline staff."
Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "Patients are waiting hours on end to be seen in England's A&E. And yet David Cameron and his ministers deny that A&E is in crisis.
"This dangerous complacency can't go on. That is why, in the absence of leadership from the Government, Labour has called a debate in Parliament on A&E services next Wednesday.
"David Cameron broke his promise of 'no top-down re-organisation' - and threw the NHS into chaos. He made it harder to get a GP appointment, closed a quarter of NHS Walk-in Centres and made deep cuts to social care support - all the ingredients for the current A&E crisis."
A Conservative health spokeswoman said: "Labour's desperate attempts to turn winter pressures into a political football are disingenuous. Andy Burnham missed his A&E target the very same week when he was health secretary, and thousands more patients are being seen within four hours than they were on his watch."