HOSPITAL bosses in South Tyneside failed to meet Government targets as accident and emergency workers were swamped during Christmas week.
Waiting times at South Tyneside District Hospital’s emergency unit fell below the four-hour limit and were the worst in the region.
During Christmas week, which ended on December 28, a total of 1,168 patients turned up at A&E at the hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields, but only 78 per cent of those were transferred, admitted or discharged within four hours – below the Government’s requirement of 95 per cent.
Today, hospital bosses said the long waits were caused by a number of factors and that staff had also been helping neighbouring health trusts with patients.
Steve Williamson, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s chief operating officer, said: “Our priority is always to maintain the safest patient care at all times and this is our focus rather than the four-hour A&E waiting target.
“The current heavy demand on emergency services is not unique to South Tyneside District Hospital, and is being experienced at various hospitals in the North East and throughout the country.
“The number of patients attending our A&E at times last month was significantly higher than last year, and we have also been dealing with large numbers of complex, severe cases – including older people with respiratory illnesses – requiring beds.
“We have implemented our plans to deal with winter pressures and we are continuing to work at full capacity.
“Whenever possible, we have also helped our colleagues in neighbouring Trusts by taking patients when requested.”
The best performing trust regionally was The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, with 94 per cent of patients being taken care of within the time limit.
City Hospitals Sunderland came in at 86.6 per cent and Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust stood at 91.3
During the last financial quarter between October and December, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s average fared slightly better at 90.5 per cent, however, it was still lower than the required target.
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck, said: “Today’s figures show that there is a serious crisis in our NHS under David Cameron.
“Cuts to social care are now really starting to take hold. The Coalition was warned these cuts would lead to more pressure on A&E departments, ambulance services, and that waiting times would rise to unacceptable levels, but they chose to take no notice.
“NHS staff have been doing a heroic job, but pressure on services is rising every year and there is only so much they can do before things reach breaking point.”
Nationally, the figures are the lowest in the last 10 years and health minister Norman Lamb has admitted the NHS is not meeting its targets.
He said: “We rightly have the toughest targets in the developed world. We are not meeting them.
“We are living longer and there is pressures from people living with chronic conditions.
“We hear lots of reports from A&E departments of older people, particularly, turning up more ill than they have in the past.”
‘Help us ease the pressure’
HEALTH chiefs are urging people in South Tyneside to stay away from the hospital’s accident and emergency department unless it’s vital.
Over Christmas staff at South Tyneside’s District Hospital’s A&E department saw a four per cent increase in patients compared with the previous year.
Dr Matthew Walmsley, chairman of NHS South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), is reminding people to only attend the unit in a genuine emergency.
He said: “Hospitals and A&E departments are under severe pressure, and it’s more important than ever that only people who need emergency medical help attend them.
“GP practices are all open as normal after the Christmas period, and there are other options for less urgent medical concerns including walk-in centres and the NHS 111 service. Local pharmacists are also expert in advising on common winter illnesses.
“If you are normally fit and well, you can help our doctors, nurses and paramedics by thinking carefully about other NHS services before calling 999 or going to A&E.
“The NHS belongs to all of us, and everyone can help to ease the pressure and ensure that services are available for people who need them most.
“Things like colds, sore throats, headaches, hangovers, upset stomachs, coughs, aches, pains, and winter vomiting should all be treated at home, or with the advice of a pharmacist, with pain killers, rest and plenty of fluids.”
High numbers of poorly older people with respiratory illnesses are seeing increased admissions to hospital across the region, which means long waiting times and some cancelled operations.
This is in addition to seasonal increases in demand for NHS services as cold weather means there are more slips, trips and injuries.
Generally, more people feel unwell during the winter as they spend more time indoors, and coughs and colds are passed around the family, friends and colleagues at work.
Advice on how to treat a range of common winter conditions by keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet at home or speaking to your pharmacist, is available at keepcalmthiswinter.org.uk or @keepcalmne.