Why are QA’s emergency waiting times so alarming?

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According to Mark Twain there are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there are the lists of waiting times at our hospitals.

These appear to fall into a category all of their own alongside school league tables.

Make of them what you will, but it is always worth taking them with a pinch of salt and delving deeper into the reasons behind the figures.

However, there is no disguising the fact that if you go to the accident and emergency department at Queen Alexandra Hospital today, you will wait longer to be dealt with than a year ago.

On the face of it, today’s figures make disturbing reading.

Government targets stipulate that every patient must be ‘processed’ within four hours. That’s far too long, but is another story.

Within those four hours the hospital must admit you, transfer you or discharge you.

But look at the figures and you will see that roughly the same number of patients passed through the A&E doors in a four-week period in August and September this year as did in the same period in 2012.

However, last year the number dealt with in that 240-minute target time was 97.2 per cent. This year it was a paltry 81.8 per cent.

Alarming isn’t it? But why?

Innes Richens, the chief operating officer for the Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group – which pays for health services in the area – has said the figures on QA are ‘unacceptable’.

He hopes to bring doctors into the A&E department to alleviate the pressure at QA.

But what we need to know is: what has happened in the past 12 months to make such dismal reading? Have staffing levels fallen to ridiculous lows? Is morale so poor staff sickness has gone through the roof? Is the structure for ‘processing’ patients way too bureaucratic?

Hospitals are always moaning about people turning up at A&E unnecessarily, people who should be treated at minor injury units. But how many turn up at QA at night when these are closed?

Let’s get answers to these questions and then judge the figures.