"Political hysteria" caused after 1,000 local patients left waiting for A&E treatment
Figures, released by the Department of Health, reveal that 1,019 patients locally were not seen within the Government-set target time of four hours after arriving at A&E departments between December 22 and 28.
At the Royal Berkshire Hospital (RBH), Reading, 208 patients had to wait in excess of the four-hour target time, which equated to 10.5 per cent of its A&E admissions that week.
Nationally, the figures showed an average of 286 patients had to wait for treatment during the same period.
Locally, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which includes Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital, was the best performing, with 90.1 per cent of its A&E patients treated within four hours that week.
At Swindon’s Great Western Hospital, 83.4 per cent of its 1,508 A&E patients were treated within four hours.
The worst performing hospital locally was the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, at which 375 patients – 17.2 per cent of its 2,177 patients – were not seen within the target time.
The political row over the waiting time figures – the worst in 10 years – has esculated daily this week as both the Conservatives and Labour prepare for battle ahead of May’s General Election.
And the furore has prompted fresh calls from the South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS) and local hospitals that residents should only call 999 or visit A&E departments when it is a genuine emergency.
RBH spokesman Joe Wise said: “We would ask everyone to use A&E only if they or a family member is seriously unwell or has sustained a serious injury.
Mr Wise said: “For many ailments there are other, more suitable, services which can be used, including calling 111, their GP, using walk-in centres or minor injuries units, pharmacies and self-help for cold and flu.
“This will allow our emergency team to concentrate on the patients who are most seriously unwell.”
As the issue continued to erupt in the national media yesterday (Wednesday), Newbury MP Richard Benyon said that pre-election “hysteria” was drawing away from the successes of hard-working A&E and ambulance staff.
“The pre-election hysteria needs to be put in context,” he said.
“Nobody is complacent. The NHS is under severe pressure and it always will be. It’s getting more money, more resources, it’s getting as near to its targets as is possible to get.
“If it takes longer than four hours to treat one person that should be a concern for everybody, from the hospital administrators to politicians and patient groups.
“We are never going to treat every case in the target time, but for every five patients for whom it takes over four hours to be treated there are 95 that are treated.
“The NHS is treating one million more patients every year than it was in 2010. Are there one million more sick people?
“The answer is no. At a time like this we must all be very clear about what A&E is for.
“It’s for serious injuries and life-threatening conditions, and we must understand that in winter, in particular, when we get cold weather, icy pavements and snow-covered roads.”
Healthcare union GMS said that, despite the figures demonstrating the pressure they are working under, staff are yet to see the desired one per cent pay increase.
Ambulance staff are considering a 48-hour strike from noon on January 29 until noon on January 31.
NHS hospital staff could also take part in a 12-hour stoppage from January 29 from 9am to 9pm and a 24-hour strike on February 24.