Row over NHS ‘crisis’ as Royal Free and Whittington A&Es miss targets

Residents who find themselves in need of critical care are having to wait longer and longer to see a doctor as A&E and ambulance waiting times continue to soar.

Between October and December 2014, the Royal Free A&E, in Hampstead, experienced its worst performance for five years, missing government targets to see 95 per cent of all patients within four hours. It achieved just 92 per cent of the target, which had previously been revised down from 98 per cent.

Over the same period, the Whittington Hospital’s A&E in Archway also missed its target, achieving 93.6 per cent. It saw the number now having to wait up to 12 hours for treatment double over a year.

Both hospitals have had to implement special measures to cope.

As figures published this week showed A&Es across the country experiencing the worst waiting times in a decade, government officials blamed the problem on a surge in demand.

At the same time, Barnet, Camden and Haringey are all suffering another crisis with ambulance response times at record highs.

The situation has led health campaigners and politicians to warn that this is “just the start of an NHS at breaking point”.

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The Ham&High asked people attending the Royal Free’s A&E about their own experiences.

Bryan Gibson, 46, who lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, attended with a heart problem. He said: “Every time I’ve come here they’ve appeared very short-staffed. In the past, I’ve had to wait from 2pm until the morning the next day until I was seen. It’s disgusting.”

But Olidia Howart, 25, a manager in the NHS and Gospel Oak resident, had a better experience after arriving to be treated for the flu. She said: “I’ve not registered for a GP so that’s why I’m here. It only took me 15 minutes to see a doctor.”

As hospital staff struggled to cope with demand, Labour and Conservative politicians began pointing fingers over who was to blame.

Sarah Sackman, Labour parliamentary candidate for Finchley and Golders Green, expressed concerns over her own Barnet Hospital A&E, saying: “Waiting times for emergency admissions and treatment for patients from Finchley and Golders Green are now the worst they have been since records began.

“The responsibility lies with the incompetence of the Conservatives and their mismanagement of the NHS.”

Mike Freer, Tory MP for Finchley and Golders Green, met with representatives at the Royal Free yesterday morning and played down the talk of a “crisis”, saying the trust was “coping well”.

He added: “We need to avoid knee-jerk reaction from politicians. It’s not a major issue if you are still getting 93 per cent or so of your customers being dealt with on time.

“This isn’t about a health service in crisis but about unprecedented demand on the NHS.”

Local health campaigners, who hoave been warning about an “impending crisis”, said a lack of funding was the cause of current pressures.

Candy Udwin, chair of Camden Keep Our NHS Public, said: “We are not surprised that local hospitals are missing their A&E targets.

“We warned that this might happen during the winter and that the out of hours service that covers GPs surgeries might also be overwhelmed.

“The blame for this lies directly with the government and its policy for running down our public health services.

“Hospitals are being starved of money by the government. The tariffs – the payments hospitals get for treating people – have been drastically cut.

“The government has also cut the community health budget so there are fewer district nurses to look after people in the community when they leave hospital.

“And cuts in local authority budgets mean councils have had to cut social care - so there are now far fewer people to look after the sick, particularly the elderly, if they are sent home.

“No wonder there is now a crisis - and it could get worse because we are not even half way through the winter.”

A spokesman from the Royal Free said: “In common with many hospitals, we have seen a significant rise in the number of emergency attendances in the past year.

“At the Royal Free Hospital there has been 9.4 per cent increase in the number of patients attending our emergency department compared with the same period last year.

“We have implemented a series of measures to reduce waiting times for emergences patients at the Royal Free Hospital.

“This includes opening additional beds and extending the opening hours of the urgent care centre.

“In addition, work began last month on our £25 million A&E redevelopment scheme and we hope that once finished, the new A&E will enable the trust to meet any further demand for our services. All A&E patients are invited to take part in the friends and family survey, in which they are asked whether they would recommend the hospital. We are pleased that in November, the latest figures we have collated, 89 per cent of A&E patients at the Royal Free Hospital said they would be likely or extremely likely to recommend our services to their friends and family.”

A spokesman from the Whittington said: “In common with other A&E departments across the country, we have seen increased attendances and pressure on this department over recent weeks.

“To support this additional demand, we have put in place a series of actions including additional resources within the hospital, increasing capacity within our community teams and closer working with our health and social care partners.

“We are working hard to ensure patients are seen in a timely way and receive the highest quality care, and the vast majority of our patients are still being seen, treated and admitted or discharged within four hours.”