Blackpool’s A&E ‘on verge of collapse’ as 12-hour waits double

A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital
A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital

The number of people waiting more than 12 hours in A&E at Blackpool Victoria Hospital doubled in the last year.

The surge in patients left languishing for half a day as over-worked staff struggle to cope with rising demand has sparked fears for the future of the NHS.

The shocking figures –which include 100 pensioners aged 90 or above – have today been blamed on Government cuts to health services and local authorities.

As one Blackpool resident described seeing ‘at least nine beds’ lining the corridors of A&E on a recent 13-hour stay at the Vic, health chiefs and MPs said hospitals across the country are under exceptional pressure.

Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “We are on the verge of collapse in our ability to give elderly and vulnerable people they care they need.”

NHS Digital released the figures during a period of intensive media scrutiny of the NHS and its ability to cope with an ever-increasing demand, with trusts across the country all struggling with huge numbers of patients.

In Blackpool, the 1,201 patients left waiting for 12 hours in 2015/16 included 100 people aged 90-plus, and 18 children under the age of nine.

That number has rocketed from 445 the year before, and an average of 506 from 2011/12 to 2014/15.

The figures show fewer people under the age of 30 waited for long periods of time – but reveal a surge in the number of older people left lingering in A&E, which has been blamed on government cuts to social care.

Mr Marsden said: “These figures are very worrying, and they bear out what has been said by a variety of authorities in the last few days that we are on the verge of collapse in our ability to give elderly and vulnerable people the care they need.

“That can be traced quite fairly to two things: the inability or unwillingness of the Government to give the NHS the resources it needs, and the constant cuts in funding to local authorities.

“The reduction in funding has left adult services in Blackpool in a very poor state.”

Hospital bosses have introduced several measures in recent years in an effort to cope with an extra 10,000 patients a year compared to five years ago and to tackle an annual seven per cent increase in A&E attendances.

Red Cross volunteers have been helping to discharge patients since 2012, nurses have been assigned to treat patients in casualty corridors, while a new ward – the combined assessment and treatment (CAT) service – has been opened to cut down on waiting times and to reduce unnecessary admissions.

But Blackpool man Eddie Brown said he saw over-stretched staff struggling to cope with the demand as recently as last Monday.

He described ‘at least nine’ patients waiting on ‘beds or trollies’ in the corridor, and said he waited for around 13 hours with his wife after arriving at 3pm.

“She was moved to a ward at around 4am,” he said. “The doctors and nurses were fantastic – they are well over-worked. Even when they had no space for patients, I did not hear any complaints.”

Mr Brown reserved his criticism for the government, accusing ministers of ‘playing down’ the issue, which he described as a ‘national problem’.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the NHS had got what it asked for in its five-year plan, saying: “We gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required. So funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.”

But in October, MPs disputed Mrs May’s claims that the Government was putting £10bn extra into the NHS, saying the timescale for the investment had changed.

And last week, NHS’ chief executive Simon Stevens described May’s statement as ‘stretching it’.

The former Labour councillor said: “Well it’s right that by 2020 NHS England will be getting an extra £10bn over the course of six years.

“I don’t think that’s the same as saying we are getting more than we asked for over five years because it was a five year forward view, not a six year forward view.

“In the here and now there are very real pressures ...This is not because hospitals are being feckless. It doesn’t help anybody to pretend there aren’t finance gaps.”

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, applauded Mr Stevens for speaking ‘truth to power’ about the pressures on health and social care sectors.

She said: “The NHS and our care homes have now passed a tipping point where they can no longer keep up with the demand we face throughout the year.

“The stresses being reported in A&E are just one aspect of what is faced on a daily basis in every part of the health service.”

The hospital trust recorded a deficit of £17m last year and is struggling to break even this year, which it must do to qualify for £7m of government cash it has already budgeted for.

It has previously said its Government funding is currently increasing by around £10m a year but expenses at the trust are going up by £20m – blamed on a reliance on expensive agency staff and demand.

Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which organises and pays for healthcare, has been told to save £6.4m this year, leading to the axe of certain treatments and prescriptions, and a crackdown on the number of people being referred for certain procedures.

And Fylde and Wyre CCG was given £240m for 2016/17, but has been told it cannot spend £5.4m of it.

When asked whether the NHS was getting enough money from the Government, Blackpool North and Cleveleys’ Tory MP Paul Maynard said the £10bn cash injection was £2bn more than was asked for, adding: “The NHS is better funded than ever before.”

Mr Maynard, who said he plans to meet hospital boss Wendy Swift this week, added: “With the extra funding the NHS should be able to carry out an additional 800,000 operations a year.

“Since 2010 there have been 10,000 more doctors and more than 10,000 more nurses on our wards. I do believe the funding and the infrastructure are in place, but we are seeing exceptional levels of demand at the moment with more people attending A&Es than ever before.

“The Tuesday after Christmas Day this year was the busiest day ever in the NHS’ history and some hospitals are reporting demand up by 30 per cent at the same time last year. This has been an unprecedented time for the NHS.

“I think there needs to be a discussion on how we use the different NHS and other health providers to ensure we get the appropriate level of treatment.”

A Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spokesman said: “We continue to work hard to ensure all patients receive safe, compassionate and high quality care in a timely manner.

“Like most areas of the country demand on our emergency department continues to rise, especially in the winter months and regrettably this can lead to longer waiting times in the department.

“As always our emphasis is on ensuring effective and timely care and safe discharges and our staff are working incredibly hard to do this.

“We are grateful for the patience of those waiting to be seen in A&E and feel sure they understand that we must always see patients who are in life-threatening conditions first.”

The trust is running its ‘Think Why A&E’ campaign encouraging patients to consider alternatives – such as pharmacies – in less urgent cases.