CRISIS IN THE HEALTH SERVICE: 1,000 people waited more than four hours in A&E

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Medics have warned that Lancashire’s NHS is ‘overheating,’ LAURA WILD explores the combination of funding cuts, social pressures and an ageing population that has left our health services facing crisis point.

Almost 1,000 people had to wait more than four hours to be treated at central Lancashire’s A&E departments in the first three weeks of this year, shock figures show.

New figures released by NHS England show the full extent of the pressure on casualty services at the Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital during a period of high demand.

NHS bosses said year on year demand has shot up and pressures have meant it is taking longer for people to be seen.

The chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals also admitted there are people in hospital who don’t need to be but they can’t be discharged because arrangements aren’t in place for their needs.

Hospitals across the country are tasked with seeing 95 per cent of their patients within four hours.

But at the height of the crisis this winter more than 15 per cent of people visiting A&E were having to wait longer than four hours to be admitted, transferred or discharged.

In the week ending Sunday, January 4, of the 2,175 people who went into A&E at the hospitals run by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals 358 people had to wait more than four hours.

It meant 83 per cent of patients were seen within the time limit.

The situation hadn’t improved much by the week ending Sunday January 11. In that week 1,996 people attend A&E and 300 people had to wait over four hours – meaning 85 per cent were seen in the time limit.

By the end of the third week of the month the situation had got better with just seven per cent of patients waiting longer than four hours.

In the week ending January 18 of the 2,150 people who attended the emergency departments within the trust 153 people had to wait more than four hours – with the percentage of people seen up to 92.9 per cent.

During the same period, hospital bosses cancelled 55 operations at Preston and Chorley hospitals – in that period 3,408 planned procedures went ahead.

Today Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Last year was very busy, and every month our Emergency Department saw 350 more patients than the previous year.

“Winter has also been much busier than usual – in November and December 1,128 more patients attended Emergency Department than in the same period the previous winter, and this pressure has continued in January.

“Since the summer there has been a steady increase in the number of elderly people with urgent care needs attending and being admitted to hospital, and older patients tend to stay in hospital for at least four times longer than people under 60 years old.

“In hospital every day there are at least 40 people, often many more, who no longer require our specialist care, but who cannot be discharged because arrangements aren’t in place to meet their ongoing health and social care needs.

“A snapshot at the beginning of January showed that 91 of the 298 medical patients we reviewed no longer required our specialist care, but could not be discharged because arrangements weren’t in place to meet their health and social care needs outside of hospital.

“Due to this pressure throughout the hospitals, there have been delays in admitting Emergency Department patients to assessment areas and wards, and some people with less serious conditions have waited longer than usual to be seen.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to maintain services and provide the highest standards of care throughout this challenging period. We are continuing to work with local health and social care organisations to make sure enough services are available to enable people to keep well at home, and support them to leave hospital promptly when they no longer require our specialist care.

“Throughout the winter our staff have worked really hard to provide the best care possible in what have been very challenging circumstances, and I sincerely thank them for their continued commitment and compassion.”

n Meanwhile the Chorley and South Ribble, and Greater Preston clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) said they are working closely with the hospital and Lancashire County Council on a number of initiatives to help tackle these pressures.

This has included extending GP surgery opening hours and developing integrated neighbourhood teams in the community.

A GP advice and visiting scheme has also been developed in partnership with the North West Ambulance Service. This has seen the number of patients being brought to A&E in an ambulance reduce by more than seven per cent.

Helen Curtis, head of quality, safety and effectiveness at Chorley and South Ribble, and Greater Preston clinical commissioning groups said: “We know that nobody wants to spend hours waiting in a crowded A&E, so we’re working with partners across the wider health economy in Central Lancashire to increase patients’ access to alternatives to hospital.

“Our first priority must always be to ensure we can admit and treat anyone who requires urgent care for a serious condition.

“We are continuing to work with local health and social care agencies to make sure there are enough services in the community so that people can access the care they need.”