Severe winter pressures at Blackpool Victoria Hospital left thousands of people waiting more than four hours in A&E last month.
The hospital had the 10th worst performing major emergency department in the country for December – but new figures show a marked improvement on last year.
More than 2,000 people – an average of 69 a day – were left longer than the four-hour target for admitting, transferring or discharging patients. It means just under two thirds of patients – 64 per cent – were seen in under four hours.
Vic bosses have been praised for the turnaround in the last 12 months – after just 40 per cent of patients waited less than four hours in December 2017 – but warned they cannot afford to be complacent with the worst of winter yet to hit.
Health chiefs have worked to ensure less serious cases are treated away from A&E to avoid a repeat of last winter when the emergency department was branded the worst in England.
Berenice Groves, interim executive director of unscheduled care with the Healthier Fylde Coast ICP, said: “Every winter we see extra demand placed on all NHS services and we ask people to only go to A&E if it’s an absolutely emergency. This message is clearly getting through.”
She said “robust” plans to ease pressure on A&E this winter included making extra beds available at Clifton Hospital, more efficient bed management and diverting patients with more minor ailments to appropriate nearby services.
She added: “We can’t be complacent though as we have not yet had the harsh winter weather we expect to hit at this time of year.”
David Owen, chairman of the Blackpool-based 38 Degrees NHS support group, said the latest figures were “good news up to a point”.
He added: “The fact is winter hasn’t really struck yet. As soon as winter gets worse, I think it’s going to have an effect on accommodation at the Vic. The big problem we still have that hasn’t been addressed is the question of beds.”
He welcomed the provision of extra beds to cope with the additional demand in winter but said the hospital was “still a long way short of what’s comfortable”.
And he said the Government had a duty to provide enough funding for hospitals to be able to cope – pointing to the fact other European countries spend more on healthcare than the UK.
He added: “The staff do a very good job. But the team at the Vic are at full stretch all the time. The Government has got to start funding the NHS at the level necessary to meet the demands on it.”
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: “I would say the figures show we are holding our own. But there is no room for complacency.”
He said it was “early days” for the winter – with no major flu outbreaks or prolonged periods of cold weather so far – and voiced concerns over the number of EU nationals leaving the NHS with Brexit just weeks away.
“These are our big issues which would affect A&E,” he added. “There’s a lot of the winter still to come. In the next couple of months we will see.”
Blackpool North and Clevleys’ Tory MP Paul Maynard said: “While the increase in A&E performance is welcome, it is clear more work is needed to ensure patients are seen within the recommended time.
“Nonetheless, this gives the lie to Labour attacks on the Vic as being the worst-performing A&E in the country, potentially deterring people from seeking help there when they really need to, and undermining hard-working staff.
“The Government continues to invest in emergency care in Blackpool. Last month the Secretary of State announced £12.94m of capital funding to expand and improve facilities. There is significantly more to come as part of the NHS Long Term Plan which will deliver some £20bn of new money and I am working to ensure we get our fair share.”
Including those going to more minor facilities, like walk-in centres, there were 16,847 patients turning up at A&E in December.
Of those, 6,002 went to the Vic’s emergency department – down from 6,028 in December 2017. The four-hour target was met in 3,868 cases last month, compared to just 2,419 in 2017.
Ms Groves added: “We have to continue to ask the public for their continued support and understanding. Please make sure you have had the flu vaccination, especially if you are entitled to it for free and always consider which service you use depending on what is wrong with you.”