Published: 18:16, 08 August 2019
| Updated: 19:04, 08 August 2019
A Kent hospital is urging people to "make the right choice" about whether they require A&E treatment.
A total of 10,654 patients spent longer than four hours in Kent's A&E departments last month, which is a 22% increase on July last year when 8,735 patients waited this time.
This is also 1,523 more than the figure for June.
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Across the county, 62,848 people visited A&E departments last month, meaning 17% waited longer than the government’s four-hour target.
Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford claims the high numbers could be down to people not considering other healthcare options before heading to A&E.
A spokesman from the hospital said: "We are dealing with an increasing number of older people coming in with complex conditions who need to be admitted in many cases.
"However, we are also seeing lots of patients who could be seen by their GP, at a walk in centre or a minor injuries unit.
"This would not only free staff to see patients in genuine need of emergency care faster, but would also ensure those needing minor or non-urgent treatment could also be seen faster, based upon their clinical need.
"Making the right choice could make the NHS better for everyone."
The hospital's A&E department, part of Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, saw 11.4% of patients waiting four or more hours to be seen by a doctor or nurse last month.
With 2,218 people waiting four or more hours, compared to 1,312 in July last year, the trust has seen a 69% increase in 12 months.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust agrees people should be keeping the emergency department for life-threatening situations only.
A spokesman said: "Staff work extremely hard to care for the thousands who attend A&E every month.
"People who don’t need emergency treatment can use alternatives which can provide effective help for minor injuries.
The trust, which has A&E departments at William Harvey in Ashford, and the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, saw 3,891 patients waiting four hours last month, equating to 18.6% of all attendees.
This is an improvement on July last year, when 20.8% were in the waiting room for longer than the government target.
More than a quarter of visitors to this emergency unit waited longer than four hours to be seen last month - 3,327 out of a total 12,225, or 27.2%.
The trust has seen a 57.9% increase in the number of patients waiting four or more hours compared to July last year.
Kevin Cairney, director of operations for unplanned and integrated care, said: "We realise long waits can make a stressful experience even worse and apologise for any inconvenience."
The trust is working on initiatives to help patient flow so people get home quicker which will ultimately help with A&E performance.
Only 1,218 people spent the lengthy period in the emergency unit at Maidstone last month, out of a total 17,769.
"Making the right choice could make the NHS better for everyone" - Darent Valley Hospital
And the trust has also improved on last year's figure, with a 5% decrease.
Sean Briggs, chief operating officer, said: "We have seen significant improvements in our emergency department waiting times and we are now one of the top ten performing trusts in the country.
"We want to thank our staff for working so incredibly hard."