How are our hospital A&E departments coping this winter?
A&E waiting times at Suffolk and Essex hospitals are increasing - with the region's biggest NHS trust recording one of the worst figures on record for patients seen within four hours.
In what health bosses have described as a "challenging time", just 82.4% of patients who went to A&E at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals in December were seen within four hours - the target is 95%.
Nearly 15,000 patients attended A&E last month.
It rounds off a difficult year for the NHS, which saw the under-pressure service record its lowest ever national figure of 79.8%.
'Winter pressures now a year-round state'
Dr Ed Garratt, who heads up the Suffolk and north east Essex integrated care team which includes Ipswich, Colchester and West Suffolk hospitals, said: "This is undoubtedly a challenging time, not only for our hospitals, but across the whole NHS landscape, including GP practices and the ambulance service, with an increased level of demand elevating pressure on staff and services.
"It is well known that the whole of 2019 was a challenging year for the NHS with what is known as 'winter pressures' in fact being an all-year-round state of high demand, with winter illnesses adding further strain.
"Compared to hospitals and NHS services nationally, the Suffolk and north east Essex area is performing well."
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Latest figures for the whole STP, which includes A&E departments at Colchester, West Suffolk and Ipswich, suggest 84.8% were seen within four hours.
Specific figures for West Suffolk have not been available for a number of months, as its A&E is taking part in a national pilot of new waiting time measures.
Figures represent 'cry of despair' from 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".
Meanwhile, the British Medical Association called the winter figures "truly alarming", and asked "How many wake-up calls does the Government need?".
Dr Garratt added: "Local people are still able to access safe, high quality and caring services - and for that we thank our hardworking staff for their efforts.
"The national A&E waiting time target of four hours is 95%, so we know that some people are waiting longer than they should, and we understand that this is frustrating.
"As always, we encourage people to help the NHS by doing their bit, such as seeking advice from their pharmacy or NHS 111 and looking out for the wellbeing of others."