The pros and cons of privatising the NHS
Questions have been raised about sustainability of Britain's health service
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The NHS's winter of discontent shows no signs of abating, with new figures revealing that January's A&E waiting times were the worst since current targets were introduced in 2004.
More than 60,000 people waited between four and 12 hours in A&E departments for a bed, while 780 were made to wait more than 12 hours, according to statistics compiled by the healthcare regulator NHS Improvement and leaked to the BBC.
The NHS aims to see and deal with 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours, but in January it fell short of that target, with only 82 per cent of patients admitted or discharged in under four hours.
The Department of Health dismissed the leaked figures as "unverified".
"It is irresponsible to publish unverified data and does a disservice to all NHS staff working tirelessly to provide care around the clock," a spokesman said.
However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt "recently suggested the four-hour target may have to be scrapped and could potentially be replaced by another measure", the BBC reports.
Public confidence in the NHS appears to be taking a knock amid recent reports that the service has reached "breaking point". A poll conducted for Sky News indicates that 64 per cent of people think the NHS is getting worse, and most of those – 57 per cent – believe the situation will continue to deteriorate.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed said that they would support increasing income tax by one per cent if the money was used to support the cash-strapped health service.
Meanwhile, the prospect of privatising aspects of the health services continues to be controversial. News that an NHS practice in Bournemouth is offering patients the chance to pay to "jump the queue" has sparked fears that opening the door to a "two-tier system" could make NHS patients "second-class citizens", says The Guardian.