Thousands of A&E patients were left more than four hours before being dealt with at University Hospitals Of Morecambe Bay Trust in December, as it recorded its worst waiting time performance in five years.
Medical professionals warn that services are at breaking point nationally after December saw a record low proportion of patients seen in time – and they fear it will get worse before it gets better.
The required target for A&E departments is to admit, transfer or discharge at least 95% of patients within four hours of arrival.
But NHS statistics show that patients at University Hospitals Of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust(UHMBT) waited longer on 2,548 occasions in December – 25.8% of all attendances.
This was the worst performance for that month since 2015, the earliest period for which data is available.
The vast majority of NHS A&E departments across England fell short of the 95% target in December.
Nationally, just 79.8% of patients were seen within four hours – the worst performance for any month since records began in 2010.
A&E departments dealt with 2.2 million visits in December – a 6.5% rise on the same month the previous year.
And during 2019, the national service saw 1.2 million more A&E attendances than in 2018.
President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Dr Katherine Henderson said there are not enough staff, and far too few hospital beds in which to treat, the rising number of patients.
“These figures show that our emergency departments are at their limits. The current situation is very difficult for both patients and staff,” she added.
“We fear though that things will get worse before they get better. Change is coming but we need election promises by the Government to be kept.”
Dr Simon Walsh, the British Medical Association’s emergency medicine lead, asked: “How many wake-up calls does the Government need?
“These figures are truly alarming and serve as yet further evidence that our NHS simply doesn’t have the resources, staff, or capacity to cope with rocketing demand.”
He said the Government must scrap the “ridiculous” pension taxation system, which has seen many doctors scale back their hours to avoid paying increased tax bills after new rules were introduced.
Dr Walsh added: “We need a long-term fix to this crisis so that doctors can get back to doing what they do best – caring for their patients.”
Prof Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “The continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years.”
Dr Shahedal Bari, medical director of UHMBT, said: “Our Emergency Departments at both the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital have been extremely busy throughout the winter months.
“This has been due to a variety of factors including high levels of norovirus and ‘flu. We are continuing to treat everyone as quickly as possible and will prioritise people with the most severe medical conditions.
“Our Emergency Department performance figures show that in December 2019, 74.2 per cent of people were seen within the four-hour target and in November 2019 the percentage treated within the four hour target was 79.3 per cent.
“While the figure for December 2019 is the lowest amongst our nearby trusts in Lancashire, we still ensured that three quarters of people attending our Emergency Departments were either discharged or admitted within four hours, at what has been one of the busiest times of the year for our emergency services.
“We focused on patient safety, quality of care, clinical outcome and patient experience. However, it isn’t good enough that people have had to wait longer than the target so we have been working hard with colleagues across the healthcare system to improve flow through our Emergency Departments.
“The measures we have taken include the following:
*We have a GP-led Primary Care Unit within the Emergency Department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary which ensures that if people attend with minor ailments, they can be seen quickly and don’t divert Emergency Department specialists away from the people they need to see.
*We are also working on new ‘escalation’ beds at both Lancaster and Barrow which we can open to help us to admit at busy times.
“I would like to thank all of our colleagues across the community and in our hospitals for their hard work throughout the winter months - and in December in particular. We are also grateful to the public, the majority of whom use our services wisely and sensibly and ensure they attend the Emergency Departments appropriately.
“We are also urging everyone who is eligible for a flu injection to act quickly and get one from their GP or local pharmacist. Anyone with flu-like symptoms is asked to think carefully before visiting friends or relatives in hospital to avoid spreading the infection and putting others at risk.
“Likewise, with norovirus, we are asking anyone who has suffered from diarrhoea or vomiting within the last 24 hours not to visit patients in hospital to help stop the spread of this highly infectious virus.
“Anyone who is unsure whether they need to visit the Emergency Department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary is asked to call NHS 111 for professional advice and guidance.
“The NHS 111 service can direct you to the most appropriate care for your condition, which could be your GP, pharmacy or walk-in centre. This useful service is available 24 hours a day by calling 111 or by going to 111.nhs.uk.
“We are also sharing information about flu so please click here https://www.uhmb.nhs.uk/media- centre/latest-news/keep-your-loved-ones-safe-winter-having-flu-jab/ for more information.”