April 24, 2013 9.36 am This story is over 110 months old

NHS needs fixing: A&E waiting times ‘absolutely appalling’

‘Absolutely appalling’: Lucy Rigby examines figures showing ULHT missed the 4 hour A&E standard and 4,646 people were waiting longer than 4 hours for treatment.

There have been numerous causes for real concern about the Tories’ attitude to our NHS since 2010, but the recent news that A&E departments across the country are at crisis point is extremely worrying. Hundreds of thousands more patients in England are now waiting longer than the benchmark four hours in A&E, with waiting times reaching 12 hours in some parts of the country.

Despite their election pledges about safeguarding what many believe is our most cherished national institution, in 2010 the Tories weakened the NHS’s existing target of treating 98% of A&E patients within 4 hours. Now, nearly three years on, due to a toxic mixture of staff cuts and a hugely wasteful ‘reorganisation’, England’s A&Es are being overwhelmed. They’re struggling in a way not seen since the bad old days of the mid-1990s.

As The Lincolnite reported, earlier this month United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust urged people to use A&E only “if absolutely necessary” and asked GPs not to refer patients to hospitals. At the time, the North Lincolnshire Branch of the Royal College of Nursing rightly expressed concern.

In fact, over the last 27 weeks, ULHT have missed the four hour A&E standard in well over half of those weeks and 4,646 people were waiting longer than four hours for A&E treatment.

Across the whole of England in the last six months, 161,890 more people waited for more than four hours in A&E compared with the same period in the previous year, bringing the total to 582,811 people. Shockingly, at Norwich & Norfolk University Hospital, an emergency tent was set up outside to treat patients because the A&E was under such pressure.

To say this situation isn’t good enough would be a gross understatement. It’s absolutely appalling. It should serve as an urgent alarm call to us all that the NHS is under severe strain.

This strain has been caused by cuts to staff and social care budgets, as well as by the time and money wasted on an unpopular reorganisation. Since the 2010 election, almost 5,000 nursing posts have been lost from the NHS. Hospitals are continuing to make severe cuts to front-line staffing levels, with many operating below recommended levels – the Care Quality Commission have warned that 1 in 10 hospitals are failing to meet the standard on adequate staffing. Despite the Francis Report’s recommendation, following the Mid Staffs scandal, that there should be a minimum staffing level (and pressure from Labour’s Andy Burnham), the Conservative Party refused to implement this.

Deep cuts to council social care budgets mean patients can’t be discharged from hospital beds, which has a knock-on effect right through the hospital. With no free beds on the wards, A&E staff can’t admit patients and, with A&E full, paramedics can’t hand over patients. The result is long queues of ambulances outside hospitals as the pressure backs up right through the system.

For months, the NHS has been distracted by its biggest-ever top-down reorganisation. On top of this, the short-sighted slashing of NHS Direct has contributed to even greater pressure on A&Es.

All in all, a deeply unhealthy combination of pressures has meant standards of care are deteriorating across the country, including here in Lincoln, and patients are suffering as a result.

Our NHS has suffered greatly under previous Tory governments and, though depressing to say it, it’s no surprise to me that it is now suffering again. It’s absolutely vital that the Tories get a grip of this A&E crisis and bring all A&Es back up to national standards as quickly as possible. At a minimum, they should stop the job cuts and ensure there are enough staff on the ground to provide safe care.

Lucy Rigby is Lincoln Labour's candidate to be the city's next MP. She is a solicitor and lives in central Lincoln.