Fear for what winter may hold as Essex A&E departments face waiting times pressure

Hospital emergency departments in Essex are currently outperforming national averages for waiting outcomes, but health officials voiced fear for what winter may hold”.

The latest A&E figures for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Broomfield, Southend and Basildon hospitals, have seen the percentage of patients waiting four hours or less in type 1 emergency departments only fall from 84.4 per cent in July 2019 to 82.8 per cent in July 2021.

This is despite the numbers of patients being seen increasing from 28,000 in July 2019 to 31,000 in July 2021.

Nationally the ratios waiting four-hour or less fell from 78.9 per cent to 67.7 per cent.

Anthony Schirn, Associate Director of Nursing for Mid and South Essex Foundation NHS said: “Our teams continue to work tirelessly to provide the best possible care, in the right place, for every patient who needs us.

“We are working closely with our primary care partners to ensure that patients have access to the most appropriate service, which might not always be the emergency department.

“The NHS is open and we ask people to choose the right service for their needs. Please remember you can call 111 or use the online service day or night to get urgent health advice and support quickly and closer to home.”

Responding to the latest set of performance figures released by NHS England for July 2021, President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson, said: “The NHS has been running hot for months now and these figures show we are nearly at boiling point.

“We are worried that the public think that things are getting back to normal on the virtual eve of a further reduction in restrictions, and messages from the centre that says things are OK are disingenuous – the reality is that the health service is really struggling.

“Four-hour performance has sunk to its lowest ever level, we have levels of 12 hour waits we would usually associate with winter, and July saw the second highest ever number of attendances across emergency care units. Yet there is no sign of rescue ahead of winter. Despite our calls for action, crowding is back with us and is compromising patient care.”

Performance figures for Emergency Care for the NHS in England in July 2021 showed that there were 1,431,499 attendances at major Emergency Departments – the second highest on record.

Just over two thirds of patients waited less than four hours from arrival to admission, transfer, or discharge in Type 1 emergency departments – the lowest percentage on record.

The number of patients waiting more than four hours after a decision to admit them stood at 89,768 – this is a 30 per cent increase compared to June 2021 (66,619) and is the third highest ever.

The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours after a decision to admit them stood at 2,215 – by far the highest July figure on record (second highest is 451 from July 2019).

Dr Henderson said: “The NHS was in a pretty dreadful state going into the pandemic – we were seeing record waits across the board, due to insufficient resourcing – but the sheer determination of an overstretched workforce, combined with a ‘whatever it takes’ approach, got us through.

“The problems that were with us before the pandemic have not gone away. Not only do they remain but are now much worse due to the impact of Covid, as these figures make crystal clear.

“The ambulance service saw the highest ever number of ambulance callouts for life threatening conditions in July, and we saw ‘trolley waits’ in hospitals go up by 30% on the previous month. This means there have been delays offloading ambulances and patients have experienced long waits to be seen and moved to a bed if they need admission.

“Emergency Departments are very, very busy.”

She added: “The other side of this is problems with supply – we do not have enough staff, beds, or equipment. There is still no plan for social care, which has a huge impact on the NHS.

“These have been issues for some time, but on top of this is the growing waiting list for elective care, staff absence due to a combination of leave and necessary self-isolation, and an even lower bed capacity due to infection prevention control measures.

“We fear for what winter may hold; we know it will be worse than now but a heavy flu season, another potential COVID surge and an understandable desire not to cancel elective care this winter could cripple us and put patient safety at risk.”

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter