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Waiting times increase at Somerset's A&Es

A&E waiting times in Somerset are continuing to rise - despite fewer people with minor injuries being treated there.

All four accident and emergency departments in Somerset have seen a rise in demand compared to the same period 12 months ago.

In Taunton, fewer people are being seen within the national target of four hours due in part to more people with minor injuries being treated in Bridgwater instead.

More elective (non-urgent) procedures are also being delayed, with patients  choosing to postpone until after Christmas in light of the pressure on front-line services.

A report on A&E waiting times was discussed by Somerset County Council’s adults and health scrutiny committee when it met in Taunton on Wednesday morning (December 4).

The number of people being admitted to either A&E or a minor injuries unit (MIU) in Somerset between April and September 2019 rose by nearly five per cent, compared to the same period in 2018.

Yeovil Hospital saw the sharpest rise, with admissions jumping 9.5 per cent compared to the 2018 figures - the equivalent of 2,068 extra people being seen.

Despite narrowly missing the government’s target that 95 per cent of people admitted to A&E should be seen within four hours, the hospital’s trust remains the third-best performing in the country with regards to A&E.

Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton saw its admissions rise by nearly two per cent compared to the same period in 2018 - the equivalent of 652 extra admissions.

The hospital’s trust only managed to see 80.3 per cent of patients admitted to A&E within four hours - performance which is below the England average.

Michelle Skillings, head of performance at the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group, said more people with minor injuries were being treated at the pilot urgent treatment centre in Bridgwater, which has been open since March.

This, she argued, meant A&E staff spent more time handling more severe emergencies - which are less likely to be resolved within the four-hour time-frame.

She said in her written report: "The trust is seeing a reduction in minor demand from the Bridgwater and North Sedgemoor locality.

"This is impacting upon the trust’s four-hour performance due to a reduction in demand that would likely be seen, treated and discharged within four hours.

"In addition, performance is further compounded by workforce challenges within the medical and nursing workforce (sickness and vacancies), and heightened peaks in daytime demand leading to high occupancy levels in the department."

Weston General Hospital saw A&E attendances rise by 5.5 per cent between April and September, compared to the same period in 2018 - and less than three quarters (73.3 per cent) of patients were seen within four hours.

The Royal University Hospital in Bath saw the smallest rise in demand of 0.33 per cent - but it still only managed to see 67.5 per cent of those admitted within four hours.

The hospital trust has put this 'poor' performance down to beds being taken up by delayed discharges and more patients being diagnosed with flu.
Somerset’s seven MIUs - run by the Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust - saw demand for their services rise by 3.9 per cent in this period.

The MIUs in Bridgwater, Chard and West Mendip (Glastonbury) saw the largest rise in demand. Only Burnham-on-Sea saw a reduction in admissions, partly as a result of temporary closures due to low staffing levels.

Ms Skillings said the four-hour waiting target was 'quite an outdated one' and said Somerset’s hospitals as a whole were 'not far from the national position'.

She added there were still people who had been waiting for 40 weeks or or more for non-urgent operations - and some were opting to push these back further in light of the additional pressure on health services over Christmas.

She said: "We still have 52-week waits within Somerset, and the number of patients waiting 40 or more weeks has increased.

"The majority are patients who are choosing to delay their treatments until after the Christmas period."

Councillor Mandy Chilcott said many people in Somerset were going to A&E as a result of local doctors not being able to offer urgent appointments.

She said: "A&E is a fallback for our residents - if you cannot get a doctor’s appointment within two weeks, people to an MIU or A&E."

Councillor Hazel Prior-Sankey, who chairs the committee, stated: "It is about getting people to the right place at the right time.

"The Bridgwater pilot does seem to be working, even though it is making Musgrove’s figures worse."

By Daniel Mumby  local democracy reporting service

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