WAITING times in accident and emergency departments across England - including in Portsmouth - have plummeted to their worst levels in more than a decade, new figures have revealed.
NHS England released records showing it has failed to meet the target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within the four-hour time target, as the government admitted there was a ‘huge amount of pressure’ on the health service.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen Alexandra Hospital, saw 81.7 per cent of the 33,239 patients who attended A&E in the three months up to Christmas within that target, making it one of the worst performing trust’s in the country.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said hospital bosses feel they are ‘running just to keep still’ to cope with rising demand.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘There is a huge amount of pressure, that’s absolutely clear.
But he added: ‘I think we also have to recognise, despite the particular pressures, despite the major incidents - and you always get some major incidents at this time of year - that the NHS is continuing to see in A&E departments nine out of 10 people within the four-hour target.
‘That is actually better than any other country in the world that measures these things.’
It is a marked fall on the worst performance recorded since the coalition came to power of 94.1 per cent at the start of 2013 and is the lowest recorded over the last 10 years.
When broken down, the quarterly records show the country’s major A&E departments fared even worse, with fewer than nine in 10 patients - 88.9 per cent - being seen within the target.
Dr Sarah Pinto-Duschinsky, director of operations and delivery for NHS England, said: ‘Today’s figures show that, in the three months to the end of December, more than nine out of 10 A&E patients in England continued to be seen and treated in under four hours - the best measured performance of any major Western country.
‘In the immediate run-up to Christmas, the NHS treated 446,500 A&E attendees, up 38,000 on the same week last year. And there were 112,600 emergency admissions - the highest number in a single week since we started publishing performance figures in 2010.
‘We faced similar demand over Christmas itself. In the week ending December 28, A&E attendances were up more than 31,000 on the same period last year, meaning we successfully treated more patients in under four hours than ever before.’
The figures were released as several hospital trusts were forced to activate major incident plans to cope with a surge in demand at emergency departments.
Gloucester Royal, Cheltenham General Hospital, Scarborough Hospital and the University Hospitals of North Midlands in Staffordshire have implemented the emergency measure.
Others, including the Royal Surrey County Hospital, in Guildford, urged people to stay away from A&E unless their case was a genuine emergency.
The president of the College of Emergency Medicine said the pressure on staff was ‘intolerable’, with around 20,000 more patients a week attending A&E than a year ago.