Hospitals on the Fylde coast are having to cope with thousands more patients every year, newly released figures have revealed.
Some 110,122 patients were admitted to hospital last year – an increase of almost 10,000 from 2009/10, statistics obtained by The Gazette from the NHS showed.
And health bosses say the A&E department at Blackpool Victoria Hospital has also seen a seven per cent increase in attendance, compared to this time last year.
They today urged people to stay away from casualty over the notoriously busy winter period unless absolutely necessary – with millions of pounds in government funding at risk if waiting time targets aren’t hit.
Consultant Simon Tucker said: “Up and down the country, emergency departments are straining under the pressures of increasing attendances and activity.
“It is important the general public is aware of the alternatives available to them, not only to manage emergency department attendances, but to ensure they receive the expert advice they require promptly.”
So far this year, just 89.51 per cent of people arriving at A&E have been seen within four hours, against a national target of 95 per cent.
If the trust fails to hit that target by the end of the year, it said it will lose up to £1m funding, and could fail to break even, which it must do to qualify for 70 per cent of £10m funding it has already budgeted for.
And with the trust’s bank balance expected to plummet to just £200,000, fears have been voiced the trust could be forced into the red, though interim chief executive Wendy Swift has previously said contingency plans were in place to prevent that happening.
A Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said: “The trust is doing all it can to reach that target despite the challenges it faces with increasing demands.
“If we don’t achieve the A&E target, that could cost us up to £1m and that will affect our ability to break even.”
And deputy finance director Keith Dickinson said at a recent meeting: “If we do not receive the £10m funding, there will undoubtedly be some form of intervention from the regulator as we will miss our control figure and we will require some support.
“Other trusts are in a worse position and we are confident at this stage, working closely with our clinical commission group colleagues, that we will not be in that situation.
“Regarding cash, the projections and plans indicate that we will not run out of cash and we are working actively to generate more.”
In July, just 86.39 per cent of patients were seen at A&E within four hours, though it improved to 91.94 per cent in August. The national average was 91 per cent.
Recovery and winter plans have now been put in place, Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which organises and pays for residents’ healthcare said.
In a risk report last month, it said waiting times were ‘likely’ to have ‘major’ consequences’.
Mr Tucker said alternatives to A&E include the 111 telephone advice line, local pharmacies, the Same Day Health Centre in Fleetwood and the Walk In Centre in Whitegate Drive – which on average has shorter waiting times than A&E – and GPs.
Mr Tucker added: “The emergency department’s priority will always be the management of medical and surgical emergencies where the failure to provide immediate intervention can have devastating effects.
“Upon arrival in the emergency department, patients are prioritised according to their urgency for assessment. Every patient presenting to the department is important but patients presenting with severe problems such as acute shortness of breath, severe abdominal pains, heart attacks, stroke or severe sepsis will always take priority over those presenting for medication advice, minor injuries, or ailments that could be managed by their GP. I would therefore encourage everybody to familiarise themselves with the advice within the ‘Think why A&E?” campaign.’”
The trust’s funding from the government is currently increasing by around £10m a year, but expenses are rocketing by £20m – blamed on a reliance on expensive agency staff and the surge in demand – leaving a huge shortfall.
Some £22.3m of savings are expected to be made this year, including cutting back on agency use and overtime payments.
Stock is also being tightly controlled, while heating and electricity bills are also being targeted as finances are watched closely.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys’ Conservative MP, Paul Maynard, said: “We all know the demand for healthcare is going up with every passing year, but we need to make sure when we do want to go to sort our problems out that we are going to the best place.
“That won’t always be A&E.
“We need to make sure we have a good network of pharmacies and GPs that people can access when it’s convenient for them.”
When questioned about Labour’s claim last week that government budget cuts could force small pharmacies to close, including 21 on the Fylde coast, Mr Maynard said: “Pharmacies are one of the few areas which have not had to make any efficiencies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look, where there are lots of pharmacies in the same area, to make savings. I don’t think it will affect Blackpool.”