ALMOST 15,000 people attended Whiston Hospital’s A&E department in December as the NHS experienced its worst waiting times on record.

The NHS four-hour A&E target states that 95 per cent of all patients should be admitted to hospital or discharged within four hours of arriving.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult for stretched A&E departments across the country to meet the target, which was introduced in 2004.

Whiston Hospital, which is managed by St Helens And Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, treated 70.9 per cent of patients who attended in December within four hours.

The number of patients seen by the emergency department last month rose to 14,903, a 57 per cent rise on the previous year (9,514).

Despite the increase Whiston Hospital’s emergency department actually performed better than December 2018, where 68.4 per cent (6,510) of patients admitted to the hospital were seen within four hours.

In total 4,337 waited longer than four hours to be treated, from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge, compared to 3,004 the previous year.

Just last week, Whiston Hospital chiefs urged people with minor ailments to seek help from their GPs and chemists after an influx of ambulance arrivals led to increased waiting times.

Responding to the hospital waiting times, a spokesman for St Helens And Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Whiston Hospital is the busiest A&E in Cheshire and Merseyside, like many others across the country, we continue to experience a significant increase in demand for services.

“Our staff are responding to this increased pressure with exceptional professionalism and are working incredibly hard throughout the hospital to manage demand, whilst continuing to provide high standards of care.”

Figures published by the NHS yesterday, Thursday, revealed a total of 2.1 million visits to A&Es across England in December, the highest in five months.

Nationally, 79.8 per cent of all patients were cared for in December 2019 within the target time.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, 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”.

Mr Dickson said the figures are the result of an older, sicker population, a more severe strain of flu this winter, and “years of under-investment in health and social care”.

“What we are seeing in and around emergency departments is only the most visible part of a system trying to cope with unprecedented demand – many family doctors are simply not able to see patients as quickly or for as long as they need to be seen, community services are short-staffed, and social care services do not have the resources or the staff to manage and support patients in their own homes,” Mr Dickson said.

“As a result, more patients are calling ambulances, too many hospitals have no beds and too many patients cannot be discharged because they have no support at home.

“The NHS is doing well in spite of all this – planning is better, and on the front line, staff are doing everything they can to deliver safe, effective care.

St Helens Star:

“The government has belatedly promised more investment and to train more doctors and nurses, but that will take time, as will efforts to build new services in the community that will relieve some of the current relentless pressure.

“We need all politicians to be honest about the state of play, and the challenges we face: it is far from being all doom and gloom, but we need sustained investment, more staff, and new types of service – all of that will take time.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said “dedicated staff” cared for more than 70,000 people every day last month – the highest on record for December.

“We have invested an extra £240 million in adult social care to get patients home quicker and an extra £1 billion for immediate hospital upgrades,” the spokesman said.

“Improving the NHS is a priority of the Prime Minister and a record cash boost worth £33.9 billion extra by 2023-24 is being enshrined in law by the government.”