Queuing ambulances and longer waiting times in casualty units brought new year pain to both patients and staff.
This week hard-pressed doctors and nurses saw 2,135 patients who turned up at A&E and minor injury clinics run by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust.
The figure was down 66 on last week, but it was still so busy that Trust’s clinical director of A&E had to abandon his holiday to see patients.
Staff managed to see 79.7% of patients within four hours; the nationally-set target is for 95%.
Even so, more than a quarter of the patients in the queue were in the departments for more than four hours before being either discharged, transferred or admitted to hospital wards for further treatment. 433 people waited more than four hours, a rise of 75 on the previous week. The average number of patients in the four-hour bracket in England is 268.
Amy Barringer, UNISON North West’s Head of Health said staff were working flat out to cope, and that many are saying this is the worst winter that they can remember.
“It is not that people are recklessly turning up at A&E but that health funds in general are not keeping up with demand, and when there are cuts in other services such as social care it is bound to have a knock-on effect.
“It was a mistake to close NHS Direct. It made nurses more accessible on the phone. The new 111 service does not have call-handlers with the same level of training – so people are more likely to be referred to A&E to get a medical opinion.”
Gillian Simpson, the Trust’s Director of Operations, said: “Our A&E department has been very busy recently and we have been working very hard to ensure that patients are seen in a timely manner whilst remaining safe.
“It was recently reported that there was a queue of 18 ambulances outside the Royal Blackburn Hospital on Saturday.
“The ambulances were parked in the hospital bays outside the A&E department whilst the paramedics and patients were inside waiting to be seen.
“Every patient we receive is always transferred on a trolley or in a wheelchair into the hospital by the ambulance staff, no one is ever left inside the ambulance, or outside of the hospital building.”