CRITICS of the National Health Service will use the latest A&E performance figures to accuse the Government of betraying patients – and not releasing sufficient funds for this most critical of public services.
However, some context is critical. Despite long-established waiting time targets being dropped, 85 per cent of patients were still admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival at casualty.
In other words, people received the care that they had the right to expect. And, while last month’s figure was the worst on record since the four-hour target was introduced by Tony Blair’s government, freezing weather – and a flu virus – put many hospitals under even greater strain. This should not be overlooked.
With the Army, and others, ferrying stranded medical workers to and from hospitals during the height of the big freeze, the NHS deserves a huge vote of thanks for performing so admirably, and so professionally, in the most challenging of circumstances.
That said, there are huge variations across Yorkshire in waiting times – the major hospital trusts in Leeds (71.6 per cent) and Bradford (77.3 per cent) do not compare favourably with Harrogate (93.8 per cent) and Airedale (91.3 per cent) which are the region’s best performers.
To what extent are these wide disparities being driven by workload, resources, management and protocols like the use of triage system to identify those patients who need the most urgent treatment? This needs to be established. Equally, these challenges could be exacerbated by the breakdown in general practice that has led to people with minor illnesses and ailments going to A&E as a matter of routine. Yet, with little respite in sight as ‘winter pressures’ becomes a year-round phenomenon, NHS managers do need to answer such questions if they’re to improve future performance.