One of the UK’s biggest hospitals had a record-breaking number of people through the doors of its emergency department on Sunday.
The Royal Stoke University Hospital in Stoke-on-Trent dealt with 499 patients – the most it has ever had – under what its chief executive said was ‘immense pressure’.
A normal day for the city A&E sees just 384, meaning the ‘manic’ rise added a a third more patients.
Some 155 of those patients were children, the hospital said, which was more than double the usual amount.
The hospital does not rank among England’s busiest, however, with some in London, Birmingham and Manchester averaging more than 1,000 patients per day in October.
Staff at Royal Stoke said flu-like illnesses were to blame for the exceptionally busy day, and the situation is a stark warning for the winter which lies ahead.
Winter crises are the new normal for the NHS and the Stoke figures paint a grim picture for the months to come, experts warn.
The Royal Stoke University Hospital (pictured) had almost 500 patients through the doors of its A&E department on Sunday – a record for the hospital. The chief executive of the trust which runs the hospital said its staff were under ‘immense pressure’
North Staffordshire Healthwatch co-ordinator Ian Syme said: ‘This is the worst I have ever known the NHS in 23 years of being a health campaigner. It is more severe than it was two years ago and it is not just the Royal Stoke.
‘That tells us there’s a huge amount of pressure on the NHS and we are not even into December yet.
‘The hospital is slowly snarling up and that is going to mean corridor waits and ambulance waits. Elective surgery will be deferred. It is rapidly turning into an emergency-only unit.
The NHS’s four-hour A&E target is one set out in the NHS constitution which dictates 95 per cent of all emergency patients in England should be admitted to hospital or discharged within four hours of arriving.
Hospitals’ performance against this measure has been tracked for more than a decade.
At a national level the NHS hasn’t hit the 95 per cent target since July 2015, when it was 95.2 per cent.
Since then there has been a steady decline to October 2019’s record low of 83.6 per cent.
That low meant that one out of every six people who went to A&E in that month waited there for more than four hours – more than 320,000 people.
The woeful figures come at a time when the NHS is trying to scrap the four-hour target completely.
Unable to meet the ambitious 95 per cent, the health service is now trying to switch to a system which doesn’t measure waiting times against a set benchmark but simply tries to treat the more urgent cases faster and loosens the limit for less serious patients.
‘We hear every winter about the NHS being in crisis, but over the last few years there has been a growing mountain of problems because of the massive surge in demand.’
NHS figures show the Royal Stoke is a long way off hitting the NHS’s target of dealing with 95 per cent of A&E visitors within four hours or less.
Just 63.3 per cent of its patients have been dealt with this quickly over the last three months, according to statistics.
The treatment times for Sunday’s patients are not yet available, but staff described scenes inside the department as ‘like something from bedlam’.
The chief executive of the NHS trust which runs the hospital, Tracy Bullock, said on Twitter: ‘I take my hat off to our ED staff for keeping our patients safe under immense pressure – last 24 hours saw record number of attendances (499). Thank you’.
The trust’s medical director John Oxtoby said: ‘Like many hospitals across the country, we are currently experiencing an increased demand on our services.
‘The colder months bring with them more cases of influenza-like illnesses and respiratory ailments, particularly among children, and we see more accidents due to adverse weather conditions.
‘This can lead to a number of challenges, particularly for our emergency department.
‘However, we do, of course, plan for these peaks in demand and we have done much to alleviate the pressures. The credit for this must be given to our tremendous staff who worked tirelessly to keep our patients safe.’
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