Royal Stoke A&E waits best in three years - but 'cracks now appearing'

Royal Stoke University Hospital -Credit:Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel
Royal Stoke University Hospital -Credit:Pete Stonier / Stoke Sentinel

A&E waits at Staffordshire's main hospital continued to improve last month - but bosses have warned that 'cracks' are now appearing. In March, 70.2 per cent of patients arriving at University Hospitals of North Midlands A&E were seen within the four-hour target - up from 63.9 per cent in February, and the best performance recorded by the trust since 2021.

Chief operating officer Simon Evans told a trust board meeting that while the percentage of patients seen within four hours increased further in April, the withdrawal of winter measures was now starting to have an impact on performance in May. UHNM failed to hit NHS England's target of 76 per cent on four-hour waits in March, but Mr Evans said he was still 'very pleased' with the trust's improvement

It came as the total number of attendances at Royal Stoke and County Hospital's emergency departments increased from 13,019 to 14,057 in March.

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Mr Evans said: "Although we didn't meet the national expectation, it is the best we've had since 2021. In April we've continued to operate above 70 per cent - it would be an even earlier point in 2021 when we last saw that level of performance.

"We're pleased with the progress, but it does come with a cautionary forecast, in that in April we did start to take out some of the winter measures. We've reduced our bed capacity and other measures which were designed to support increased demand over winter. As they have reduced, we are noticing that it is starting to have an impact on flow and urgent care's capacity to respond.

"So we are starting to see some cracks appearing in May. We started this month in a worse position compared to March and April. But we still have a number of schemes working positively."

Mr Evans said UHNM planned to hit the increased NHS target of 78 per cent by the end of 2024/25, although he warned that this would involve 'fairly steep improvement' towards the end of the year. The trust is carrying out a number of improvements to reduce A&E waits, including improving patient flow and reducing attendances, and Mr Evans said the full impact of these measures would not be seen until later in the year.

Non-executive director Leigh Griffin raised concerns over what UHNM was doing to improve discharge rates - so-called 'bed blocking' can be major factor in A&E performance. He said: "I'm delighted to see the ED performance in March and April - the best in three years. I know how much hard work has gone into that.

"But I'm concerned about what's happening at the other end, with discharges. The number of very-long stay patients is increasing, and we're seeing re-attendance rates well above target."

Mr Evans said that a peer review had shown that UHNM was doing a good job with complex discharges, but he accepted that there was 'more work to be done' with simple discharges. He said that UHNM was still in the top half of NHS trusts in terms of overall discharges.

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