A&E ‘heading for crisis’ as demand still soaring

Blackpool Victoria Hospital has been hit with "unprecedented" demand in recent weeks.
Blackpool Victoria Hospital has been hit with "unprecedented" demand in recent weeks.
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Soaring demand at Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s A&E department has left the resort on the brink of a health “crisis”, it has today been warned.

New figures show more than one in four people were left waiting for longer than four hours at A&E in the week before Christmas.

However, despite missing Government targets to deal with 95 per cent of patients in under four hours for two of the four weeks in December, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it had the best performing A&E department in Lancashire.

As revealed in yesterday’s Gazette, the Vic is struggling to cover shifts as it opens extra wards to cope with the winter influx of patients.

Now, the latest figures from NHS England highlight the impact the mounting pressure on hospital staff is having on patients.

In the week ending December 21, the Vic saw 1,639 patients arrive at A&E while a further 2,293 attended smaller facilities including walk-in centres.

Of the 704 most serious cases – who were either admitted or transferred – 218 were left waiting more than four hours.

The number of serious cases where patients waited more than the four-hour target in December was more than 
triple the figure from 2013.

Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne (pictured) told The Gazette: “For the last two years we have seen a kind of constant pressure on A&E departments that is unprecedented.

“It has been a constant crisis in A&E and we have been warning for some time that the Government needs to get a grip on this.” The pressures in Blackpool are mirrored across the country and Labour, as well as nursing representatives, is blaming the Government for the problems facing the NHS.

However, the Government insisted the pressures, which have seen waiting times nationally at their worst level in a decade, were “short-term”.

The Prime Minister dismissed claims the NHS is in “crisis”. Mr Gwynne blamed the rise in patients on the lack of alternative options, saying it has become harder to see a GP under the coalition government and pointing to the removal of the NHS Direct service as another factor.

He said savage Government cuts to councils have led to reduced spending on social care, which has had a knock-on effect within A&E as medically fit patients can’t be discharged because they cannot be adequately cared for once they leave.

He added: “There is no short-term quick fix – we need more doctors and we need more nurses. Part of the problem is staff who have worked in the NHS recently feel so 
demoralised with the pressure that many have left the NHS altogether.

“We need to train up the next generation of nurses and we also need to entice some people back into the NHS.”

He said a Labour government would invest £2.5bn a year – funded through a mansion tax, a clamp-down on tax avoidance and a levy on tobacco companies – to transform health and social care as well as bring in another 20,000 nurses across the country.

The NHS England figures show the number of people attending A&E departments in Blackpool in the last two weeks of December was almost double the figure from the same period in 2013 – although this was largely down to a huge increase in people going to minor injury units, rather than the Vic.

During those two weeks in 2014, 83 per cent of the 
patients at the Vic were dealt with in four hours or less. Across the whole Trust, the figure was higher at 93 per cent.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Patients and hardworking staff are being let down by a system which is in crisis.”

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said the figures for the resort were “very concerning”.

He said: “I am sure A&E staff in Blackpool are doing their best to cope with what is a very difficult situation.”

A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Despite these huge challenges, which are being replicated nationally, last week we saw 97 per cent of patients within four hours compared to a national average of 91 per cent.

“This has been down to the tremendous work of our dedicated staff who are doing their utmost to provide the best quality of care possible to our patients.

“We know the challenge will be with us for a few weeks yet and we continually monitor the situation and implement our winter plans.

“We are, however, continuing to encourage people to use all of the health services available locally and only attend A&E when absolutely necessary.”