Published: 11:20, 21 January 2020
| Updated: 12:04, 21 January 2020
Performance against key national waiting time standards have dipped to their lowest ebb with one hospital racking up more than 100 breaches a day.
Around 3,400 patients seeking emergency care at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford faced waiting times longer than four hours last month.
NHS data revealed in December A&E departments across the county fell significantly short of the government target, which is to see 95% in four hours.
Nationally, the December 2019 waiting time performances are the worst since the target was introduced in 2004, with pressure on social care and not enough hospital beds given as reasons.
All Kent trusts came below their December 2018 A&E waiting times, with 14,879 patients not seen within the target time.
Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, which manages Darent Valley Hospital, saw the most drastic decline across Kent, with only 70.7% of patients being seen in the target time during December 2019, compared to 78.4% the year prior.
This amounted to more than 100 breaches per day.
The number of people seeking emergency care from the Trust last month increased by 830 to 11,675, from December 2018.
Across both A&E and emergency admissions – which can include direct referrals from a GP as opposed to a 999 call – there were 98,452 four hour delays from decision to admit to admission this December.
This is compared to 59,805 in the same time period last year.
Of these, 2,347 so-called "trolley waits" were delayed by more than 12 hours, compared to just 284 in the same month last year.
The absence of beds has led to some patients being cared for in corridors as there are no cubicles available to off-load ambulance patients.
Some residents claim this has led to them receiving poor care.
Last month a grandmother hurried her granddaughter to the A&E department at Darent Valley Hospital where she was assessed in the corridor.
The Northfleet resident – who claimed doctors refused to assess her grandchild in person – said doctors and nurses were visibly struggling to cope with the numbers.
Spokesman for the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust Glyn Oakley said an increasing number of patients was putting pressure on the hospital in what was its busiest period of the year.
"Darent Valley Hospital has had a particularly busy Christmas and New Year period with an average of 377 patients attending our A&E department, nearly 10% higher than last year," he said.
"Many of these patients have also been much sicker than previous years, requiring admission and high levels of support to then safely return to their home beds.
The Trust spokesman said this weekend the hospital managed to hit the national NHS target of seeing, treating and admitting or discharging 95% patients within four hours.
"Our highly skilled staff are working very hard to treat patients safely, with kindness and in a timely manner," he said.
But the Trust conceded it had nursed patients in the A&E corridor while awaiting assessment "when necessary", adding: "This frees ambulances to attend other emergencies with a minimum of delay".
"None of our patients have waited longer than 12 hours after a decision has been made to admit them to hospital and any corridor care has been delivered safely and for minimal amounts of time.
Concerns were also raised regarding safeguarding of paediatric care after the number of very sick children attending A&E peaked at the beginning of December.
As a result a ward area in the emergency department was converted into a temporary children's ward, with locked doors and highly trained doctor's and nurses.
But the Trust has rebutted any assertion this led to malpractice, saying: "On December 11, all paediatric beds in Kent, the South East and London were full so Trust staff quickly turned a ward area in A&E into a children’s ward.
"Our highly skilled staff are working very hard to treat patients safely, with kindness and in a timely manner," Spokesman for the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust Glyn Oakley
"The chief executive, who is herself a children’s nurse, worked in the area to support with the care of the children.
"Whilst this additional ward was only opened for a day, the Trust was able to ensure children were kept safe and given the treatment they required.
A&E waiting times were not the only government targets the Trust breached.
Published Trust board minutes revealed the hospital had failed to meet its obligations for patients beginning their first treatment for cancer within 62 days.
The 18 week referral to treatment time was also breached, as was the six week target for diagnostic tests, potentially delaying patient treatment.
The report stated: "As a consequence of unexpected demand exceeding the planned resource, there has been a number of breaches of the 18 week standard within the surgical division. Actions are underway to address this issue."
Trust CEO Louise Ashley, who signed off the report, said: "This has been a very difficult time for the hospital as we have been seeing more than usual numbers of patients coming through the A&E department, many with multiple needs.
"I am very proud of the way in which our staff have worked over and above what is already expected of them, to provide safe and effective care with thoughtfulness and compassion.
"I apologise to any patients who have had operations or treatments cancelled or who have had to wait longer than four hours in A&E over this extraordinary busy period.’
More by this authorSean Delaney