Hard-pressed staff at Royal Preston Hospital’s accident and emergency department dealt with hundreds of extra patients in December - leading to the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust being ranked the worst in the country that month for seeing patients within four hours.
According to official figures, the Trust, which also includes Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, saw just 43.4 per cent of patients within four hours in A&E in December.
That was against the national target of 95 per cent and reflects the national picture where targets were widely missed.
Data from NHS England shows 79.8 per cent of A&E patients were seen within four hours in November
Figures show that in Preston, the casualty department saw 4,871 patients in 2019 – 397 more than the previous year.
That is an increase of nearly nine per cent.
Overall, however, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals’ record of seeing patients in all departments within four hours, including urgent care, was a creditable 76.4 per cent.
Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, apologised for any patients who had to wait longer than normal.
She said: “Winter is an exceptionally busy period for hospitals around the country.
“We are looking after more acutely unwell patients than usual, and despite our best efforts there are inevitably delays when we are exceptionally busy, which we know is not ideal.”
She added: “Our staff are working with great commitment and compassion to look after the continuingly increasing number of patients who need hospital care.
“We apologise to every patient who has experienced delays.
“We trust that everyone understands that we must prioritise those who need emergency treatment.”
A spokesman for Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System said: “The winter months are an especially busy time for hospitals across the country. Health and care organisations in Lancashire and South Cumbria will continue to work in partnership to ensure that we improve the experience of patients seeking urgent and emergency care.
“We have a number of alternative services in place such as NHS 111, NHS 111 online and GP extended access, to ensure that people have access to a variety of help ensuring they receive the most appropriate care without having to attend A&E.”
Nationally, there were 2,181,024 attendances at A&E departments in December 2019 or 70,356 per day, an increase of 133,506, or 4,307 per day from December 2018 – a 6.5 per cent rise.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “A&Es across the country are currently very busy – in 2019 we treated over a million more patients in our A&Es than the previous year.
“We have got more hospital beds open than last winter, but flu has come early and is around twice as high as this time last year. For the public there is still time to get your flu jab, and remember to use the free NHS 111 phone and online service and your local pharmacist.
“The continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years.”
Ambulance arriving at Royal Preston Hospital’s A&E department
Thousands of patients left waiting months for treatment at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals were still in limbo at the end of October, the latest figures reveal.
The Patients Association says long waits can be unbelievably stressful, and blames a “familiar cocktail” of underfunding, poor planning and higher demand for increased waiting times.
According to NHS rules, anyone referred by their doctor for non-urgent consultant-led care should start treatment within 18 weeks.
But NHS England statistics show that 7,779 patients due to be treated at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust had been waiting longer than that at the end of October – 22 per cent of those on the waiting list.
It means the trust is falling well short of the NHS’s target for the 18-week threshold to be met in at least 92 per cent of cases.
Of those not seen in time, 1,088 had waited more than 36 weeks , while four had still not started treatment after a year.
The figures quoted only cover those still waiting to start treatment, and do not account for how long patients who started treatment waited.
Across England, 85 per cent of patients waiting to start treatment at the end of October had been doing so for 18 weeks or fewer – below the target.
This was the lowest proportion for the month since 2007.
Lucy Watson, chairwoman of the Patients Association, said that longer waits for patients were “unacceptable”.
She added: “The rising trend in waiting times is very clearly attributable to the familiar cocktail of sustained NHS underfunding, poor planning and stewarding of the NHS workforce, and rising levels of patient need linked to demographic change.
“The Government will have to go well beyond its current spending plans in order to reverse this trend decisively.”
Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said that while targets can drive improvement, they would be hard to achieve without a “much-needed injection” of staff.
“Our data shows that 43 per cent of consultant posts went unfilled last year, partly due to the fact that there simply aren’t enough people training to become doctors,” he added.
“We need the Government to commit to doubling the number of medical school places, so that we can truly create a workforce that is fit for the future.”
The NHS is reviewing the waiting time target, which it says can lead to problems such as a lack of focus on how long some patients wait beyond 18 weeks.
It is considering an average waiting time as a possible alternative.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said there are 19,300 more doctors on wards than in 2010.
She added that the Government is funding an extra 1,500 university places for future doctors alongside “ambitious” plans to increase the NHS workforce, backed by increased funding worth £33.9 billion extra a year by 2023-24.
Performance in England
In neighbouring Blackpool, the resort’s Victoria Hospital saw just 44.2 per cent of patients within four hours.
In Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh, the figure was 61.6 per cent.
Top performing was Sheffield at 96 per cent.
Data published by the NHS shows December saw a record number of A&E attendances and ambulance call-outs nationally.
Across England, 79.8 per cent of A&E patients were seen within four hours last month – the worst figure on record and set against a target of 95%.
The monthly performance statistics show there were 2,181,024 attendances last month - a 6.5 per cent rise from December 2018.
Downing Street said winter was “always challenging” for the NHS.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the figures “represent a cry of despair from a service that is delivering remarkable care to millions of patients, but is under enormous pressure”.
Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “The NHS is struggling to escape its spiral of decline.
“With a record low in terms of four-hour performance and highest ever number of 12-hour waits, this will have been a miserable Christmas period for many patients and staff alike.”
Nuffield Trust chief economist Professor John Appleby said: “These would be dire performance figures for any December but what’s worrying is that we are still awaiting the truly cold winter weather that we know will plunge the NHS into further problems.”
The British Medical Association called the winter figures “truly alarming”, and asked: “How many wake-up calls does the Government need?”
The NHS figures also show that ambulances attended 790,294 incidents in December – the busiest month on record and a 5.3 per cent increase from the same month the previous year.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Over two million people attended A&E last month, that means that dedicated staff cared for over 70,000 people every day - the highest ever for December.
“We have invested an extra £240 million in adult social care to get patients home quicker and an extra £1 billion for immediate hospital upgrades.
“Improving the NHS is a priority of the Prime Minister and a record cash boost worth £33.9 billion extra by 2023/24 is being enshrined in law by the Government.”
Away from emergency care, the estimated total waiting list for treatment, such as knee and hip replacements, is estimated to be 4.6 million people at the end of November.
Around 84 per cenet of those on the waiting list had been waiting less than 18 weeks, thus not meeting the 92 per cent standard.
Cancer waiting time targets were also missed, with tens of thousands of people still experiencing delays in diagnosis and treatment.