HEALTH chiefs are being warned that urgent action is needed to avert a winter crisis in A&E services amid evidence of rapidly worsening pressures in the region.
Tens of millions in extra cash will be needed to tackle surging demand which has meant half of the region’s NHS trusts have failed to meet the key A&E target to treat 95 per cent of patients within four hours in the last six months.
The measure is seen as a key sign of stress across the health service and is prompting growing alarm over capacity this winter.
Among further evidence of escalating pressures, a snapshot survey by the Yorkshire Post has found nearly two in five 999 ambulances faced delays discharging patients and leaving casualty units within a 30-minute deadline. The worst problems were in West Yorkshire, with some delays of more than three hours.
The latest problems come as hospitals already struggle to staff casualty units, with analysis showing half of posts for specialist trainee doctors in emergency medicine now lie vacant across the region and one in six consultant posts are also empty. At A&E units in Leeds, only five of 21 trainee positions have been filled and only three out of 10 are occupied at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital. In A&E at Scunthorpe and Grimsby hospitals, six out of 10 consultant posts and half of 10 trainee positions are vacant.
Health bosses in Yorkshire and across the country have been ordered to urgently draw up plans to deal with pressures – but doubts over funding remain.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, which represents elite foundation trusts, told the Yorkshire Post there was a “big questionmark” over resources available to allow emergency care services to function effectively this winter.
“We are very nervous about what might happen,” he said. “We know that some clinical commissioning groups are under real financial pressure and the funding simply isn’t there. In some areas, although a good plan has been drawn up, there is not enough funding for it.”
David Throssell, medical director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said there had been “unprecedented levels” of demand for emergency care in recent months but it was on track to again meet A&E standards.
“We have also developed comprehensive plans in readiness for next winter. This includes additional consultants, emergency care nurses and a £3m expansion of our A&E department,” he said.
Neil Pease, from the Northern Lincolnshire and Goole trust, said it was using national and international recruitment to fill vacant A&E posts.
“Many UK hospitals find it a challenge to fill these positions due to the relatively small pool of people who are suitably qualified and experienced for what is an extremely demanding clinical role. Patient safety is our priority, however, and these vacant posts are always covered by appropriately qualified locums or agency staff,” he added.
NHS England said 15 urgent care boards in the region were working to sustain improvements in A&E waiting times.