Suffolk: Hundreds more patients waiting more than four hours in A&E, shock figures reveal

Compensation payouts fall

Compensation payouts fall - Credit: IAN BURT

HUNDREDS more patients are being forced to wait longer than four hours for emergency care at Suffolk hospitals, new figures have revealed.

Department of Health figures show 13.1% of 1,340 Ipswich Hospital patients were forced to wait longer than four hours for emergency treatment during the week up to April 7 – compared to 2.3% in the same week last year.

The NHS data means 182 patients – or 26 every day on average – were still left waiting to be seen after four hours in A&E at the hospital during the week.

In 2012, 31 patients waited more than four hours in the corresponding week ending April 8 – or four every day.

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds (10.8%), James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston (9.9%) and Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust (7.6%) all had higher percentages of people waiting longer than four hours as well. The national average was 7.9%, compared to 3.2% last year.

But junior health minister and Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, Dr Dan Poulter warned of a “knee-jerk reaction”, insisting the figures were not an accurate reflection with patients still receiving high-quality care.

“There should not be a knee-jerk reaction to these figures, which are not like for like,” he said. “They are Bank Holiday figures being compared to last year when Easter Monday was a week later, on April 9.

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“That is significant because GP surgeries are closed at weekends and bank holidays – and GPs don’t have out-of-hours services they once had because of the previous government, which puts additional pressure on the service provided in A&E.

“So it is not a case of sick people not being treated with efficiency and care – they are. Nurses and doctors have much greater flexibility in terms of prioritising than they used to. They are providing high-quality care.

“Obviously if there is a long-term trend – and that needs to be monitored – then something will need to be done, but we have had these sorts of figures before. They are nothing new.

“But sick people are having to turn up at A&E and not out-of-hours surgeries. We need to turn the system back round so local GPs are provided with 24-7 services again at surgeries.”

There were 6,124 patients seen at Ipswich Hospital’s emergency department last month, compared with 5,850 a year earlier. In February, 5,321 patients were treated compared with 4,947 in 2012.

Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman Jan Ingle said: “Like hospitals nationwide we have seen a significant increase in the number of people attending the emergency department.

“Everyone accepts the national standard of a four-hour target is right and proper, but it is exceptionally difficult to reach it when you have an increase in the number of people in A&E, which clearly has an impact.

“But we are working closely with our colleagues, particularly with the Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, to try to understand and address this issue.”

A&E and 999 ambulance services should only be used in life-threatening or critical situations, NHS guidelines say. People with health concerns unable to wait for GP opening hours can visit pharmacies, primary care trusts or use online NHS health checkers.

Prue Rush, a former GP nurse at Ipswich Hospital and now a health campaigner, said: “They need to have a look at the figures and ask whether they had enough staff, which may have been an issue, but it needs to be looked at long term.”