A patient did not wait in A&E for 36 days

1 September 2023
What was claimed

A mental health patient waited 36 days in A&E at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust.

Our verdict

This is not correct. The trust has confirmed that the patient left A&E and then returned the following month. Some patients have waited several days at other trusts however.

One patient at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust waited in A&E for 860 hours, the equivalent of 36 days, while suffering a mental health crisis.

Following a press release from the Labour party, PA Media and some newspapers including the Independent and MailOnline reported several alleged examples of extremely long hospital waits by mental health patients. 

These included one patient at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh trust who supposedly waited in A&E for 36 days.

This is not correct. It is the result of an error in the data, which Labour obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. 

The NHS trust told Full Fact that the patient visited A&E then left on the same day, before returning and being “discharged” the following month. 

Another trust told us that two further examples mentioned in Labour’s press release were also not correct.

Following contact from Full Fact, Labour agreed that the information in its press release was wrong and said it had corrected it, although we do not know which outlets Labour sent the correction to. 

PA Media has issued a correction, and MailOnline and the Independent have both now corrected their articles.

It’s important that public bodies release accurate information. It’s also important that politicians and the media take care to use correct information when describing public services. This helps people to use them effectively, and to make informed decisions when voting. 

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What Labour announced

In a press release headlined “Mental health patient waited 36 days in A&E last year”, which was sent to the media on the morning of 31 August, Labour described what it said were several examples of extremely long waits for mental health patients in A&E. 

These involved four NHS trusts: 

  • Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
  • James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 

Labour said that it gathered the data using FOI requests, but when we asked the trusts to confirm the information about their hospitals, two told us that it was not correct.

The Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust said in a statement from its chief executive, Silas Nicholls:

“We responded to an FOI in July 2023 asking for the single longest amount of time, in hours, that an individual adult spent in A&E, where their chief complaint was mental health related, broken down by financial year, since 2010, by breaking down each year’s longest wait into minutes.

“Our longest wait was reported in the FOI as 51,597 minutes in 2022/23. Following investigation, the trust has established that this information was incorrect and related to an individual who attended A&E and subsequently absconded on the same day. They re-attended A&E the following month and were ultimately discharged that day. 

“Therefore, the FOI information is incorrect.”

Other errors

Separately, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust told us that data behind two further cases in Labour’s press release was also not correct.

One involved a patient supposedly waiting 21 days in A&E, and another involved a child waiting 198 hours (about eight days).

In fact, the trust has told us that the correct data should have shown that the longest wait involved an adult spending 198 hours in A&E. 

It also said that it was not able to identify the information requested about children from the data it has available.

Labour’s correction notice still says that a child waited 198 hours at Southampton, which we now know is not correct. We have told Labour about this.

Some data was correct

Two other NHS trusts told us that the data attributed to them was correct.

James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said that a child who waited nine days was in an A&E bed.  

And Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust confirmed that an adult waited 12 days and a child waited 150 hours (about six days). It told us that it employs specialist staff and provides designated mental health rooms within emergency departments.  

A spokesperson said: “While our staff do everything possible to keep patients safe while they are waiting for specialist care to become available at a mental health trust, we are very sorry that some people wait much longer than we would like.”

Datasets of all kinds often contain errors—perhaps from typing mistakes or incomplete information—so it’s important to check the explanation for any outliers when planning to publish them.

We took a stand for good information.

As detailed in our fact check, Labour told us it had updated its press release.

PA Media has issued a correction, and MailOnline and The Independent amended their articles.

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