Published: 10:00, 15 September 2017
| Updated: 10:35, 15 September 2017
Extra emergency doctors have been recruited to tackle an A&E crisis in east Kent as waiting times remain among the worst in England.
Fresh figures published on Thursday reveal more than 5,000 patients were last month forced to endure lengthy waits for treatment, with just 61.8% seen within four hours.
Only one hospital trust in the country performed worse, knocking east Kent off the top of the unenviable table it headed in July.
But when waiting times at minor injuries units are included, it still ranks worst in England, with just 70% of patients waiting less than four hours in August. The national average is 90.3%.
Hospital bosses say staff recruitment is a major factor, highlighting a worrying shortage of doctors and nurses.
The trust also points to a spike in the number of people attending A&E, but has sought to play down any link to drastic cuts in emergency provision at Kent and Canterbury Hospital’s urgent care centre.
This is despite more than 600 extra patients a month now being diverted from the city to the emergency departments at Ashford’s William Harvey and the QEQM in Margate.
Trust chief executive Matthew Kershaw admits current performance levels are “not the standard we want for any of our patients”.
“We carefully monitor our services to ensure patients are receiving safe standards of care, but having to wait for a long time in A&E can be uncomfortable and worrying, and isn’t a good experience,” he said.
“Staff are working extremely hard to care for patients, but it is challenging, as we need to cover vacant posts with temporary staff, as well as wider issues with peaks in patient attendance and ensuring the entire local NHS is caring for patients in the right place at the right time, whether that’s in a hospital bed, in a community setting or at home.”
Mr Kershaw says 10 new emergency doctors have been recruited to join the trust within the next two months, while increased efforts are also being made to fill nursing vacancies.
"It will take some time for us to reach the national four-hour standard, but we are making this a priority..." - trust chief executive Matthew Kershaw
At the same time, drastic structural changes are being made to A&E departments in Margate and Ashford to provide more space for patients to be treated.
Mr Kershaw said: “We are putting in place a number of measures to improve, including treating more types of illness and injury in other parts of the hospital to relieve the pressure on the emergency departments.
“We have been successful in a bid for £800,000 to help make the relatively small departments at Ashford and Margate hospitals more fit for purpose, so we have begun refurbishment work to increase the space available and provide a better environment for sick or injured patients.
“While we are confident this will help, we will still need more staff and we will need to make further improvements. It will take some time for us to reach the national four-hour standard, but we are making this a priority.”
There will be three new treatment areas at William Harvey’s A&E, including a recently opened ambulatory care unit to treat conditions where no overnight stay is required.
It will help relieve pressure on the emergency department by seeing, treating and discharging people who do not need to be admitted to a ward.
At the QEQM, space for ambulatory care is being expanded so staff can see more people, with a special assessment unit for patients who may require surgery.
A separate area for children will provide a more comfortable visit for families, while the mental health liaison service will be in place 24 hours a day by the end of the month.
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