Waiting times at Nottingham hospitals up by 82%
THE number of patients waiting longer than four hours in Nottingham's only accident and emergency unit has almost doubled in the past year.
Figures show that 10,831 patients were kept waiting for more than four hours in 2011-12 – a rise of 82 per cent on the previous year, when just 5,943 patients were affected.
The hospital says it is due to a rise in older patients with more complicated problems coming in, but others have suggested it is because hospitals are no longer fined for missing targets.
The Government target is for 95 per cent of patients in A&E to be seen within four hours, and Nottingham University Hospitals Trust set its own target of 98 per cent.
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But the trust has missed both its own, and the Government target, with 93.9 per cent of patients being seen within that time period.
Jenny Leggott, executive lead for emergency care at NUH, said: "During the last year we have seen more older patients with more complex medical problems coming to our Emergency Department, and these patients have stayed in hospital longer.
"We have seen surges in attendance around weekends, evenings and over bank holidays. We are working closely with our GP and community health colleagues to better manage these unpredictable peaks in demand and ensure we meet the national waiting time standard by the end of September.
"We have solid plans in place to ensure improvements. This includes opening an emergency assessment unit in order to increase the capacity of our emergency department at QMC.
"We have accelerated our plans to move more elective work to the City Hospital to free up more capacity at QMC for emergency patients. Elective orthopaedic surgery will transfer from QMC to City."
The trust has not given specific reasons for the increase in the number of older people needing treatment.
However, Martin Benn, branch secretary for Unison, believes that since the current Government stopped fining hospitals for missing their targets, in June 2010, it had been less of a priority for the hospital to meet the four-hour target.
He said: "The management of the hospital claim they haven't taken their foot off the gas, but it's patients that are clearly suffering."
The figures show that in 2011-12, there were 177,563 A&E attendances at the QMC and 93.9 per cent of patients were seen within four hours. For previous years the figures were:
2010-11: Total attendances 174,220; 96.6 per cent seen within four hours; 5,943 (or 3.4 per cent) were not.
2009-10: Total attendances 167,617; 96.8 per cent seen within four hours; 5,446 (or 3.2 per cent) were not.
Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero has written to Health Secretary Andrew Lansley to complain about the rise, and described the news as "extremely worrying".
She said: "Waiting times are so important and we all want our loved ones to be treated as quickly as possible. There is clearly a large increase and the question local people will want answering is, 'why?'.
"Labour predicted that if you removed [the fines] then waiting times would rise."
One person who says she waited over four hours in A&E before she was seen was 21-year-old Emily Copeland of Lenton, who injured her shoulder.
She said: "I must have been waiting about five or six hours. I arrived at around midnight and when we left it was getting light. I had five stitches in my shoulder, but the wait was very distressing."
Dr Hugh Porter, GP and chairman of the NHS Nottingham City clinical commissioning group, said: "Of course no one wants to have to wait a long time to see a doctor. But, whilst most people use A&E appropriately, around 1 in 4 people in Nottingham who go to A&E don't need to be there. We have done a lot of work recently to encourage people to use the right NHS service first time.
"If you have a health concern book an appointment with your GP before it becomes urgent. If you need advice or treatment when your surgery is closed, then visit one of the two walk-in centres or call NHS 111. A&E should be used for emergencies only."