Published: 17:46, 09 January 2020
| Updated: 17:48, 09 January 2020
Nearly 15,000 patients seeking emergency care across Kent faced waits of longer than four hours last month.
NHS data revealed that in December A&E departments across the county, fell significantly short of the government set target, which stipulates that 95% of patients are treated within 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 saw the most drastic change, with only 70.7% of patients being seen in the target time, compared to 78.4% last year.
The number of people seeking emergency care from the trust last month increased by 830 to 11,675, from December 2018.
Meanwhile, data revealed Medway NHS Foundation Trust had the worst waiting times, with 69.7% of patients being treated in four hours or less, falling from 74.5% in the same period in 2018.
James Devine, chief executive at Medway NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Like many NHS organisations, we have experienced a very busy winter.
"In December 2019 we saw over 1,600 more patients in our emergency department than we saw in December 2018, a 16% increase.
"We know that some patients spent more time in our emergency department than they should have – particularly those who have been waiting for a bed.
"We apologise for any inconvenience or discomfort they may have experienced during their wait.
“We don’t take this lightly and are concentrating on improving patient flow throughout the hospital so that patients get home to their families quicker, freeing up beds for new arrivals and reducing pressure and delays in our emergency department.
“We are continuing to look at how we can make the most efficient use of our beds and have been working closely with our partners across Kent and Medway to make sure out-of-hospital care is in place for when our patients are fit to be discharged."
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust said their hospitals were extremely busy last month.
At their A&E departments, 73.9% of patients were treated in four hours or less, compared to 75.2% in the same month last year.
A spokesman for the trust said: "The NHS saw record numbers of patients in emergency departments across the country in December and like trusts elsewhere, our hospitals were extremely busy.
“Our staff treated more than 4,000 additional patients in December 2019 compared with the same period the previous year and work tirelessly to provide the best possible care.
“Despite the additional pressures, almost three quarters were seen within the national standard and we continue to focus on improving that figure so that no one has to wait longer than we would like.
“People who don’t need emergency treatment can help us by keeping emergency departments for emergencies and life-threatening situations only, and by using alternatives such as minor injuries units, GP surgeries and pharmacies instead who can provide convenient and effective help for minor illnesses and injuries."
Some 19,761 attended the trust's A&E department, compared to 18,026 in December 2018.
At Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, 85% of patients seeking emergency care were seen within the target last month, compared to 87.5% during the same period in 2018.
A trust spokesman said: “MTW is seeing record high numbers of people attending our emergency departments (ED) this year – up by 12% compared with last year.
“We have put comprehensive plans in place to help us deal with this rising demand. As a result we have seen significant improvements in our ED waiting times and we are now one of the top ten performing trusts in the country.
“However, there is still more we can do to ensure our emergency patients receive the very highest standards of care and treatment. We have built on the good work already in place and continue to work closely with our community providers to reduce ED attendances by enhancing services to treat more patients at home and increasing the time our hospital assessment units are open to support our older frail patients.
“We have put comprehensive plans in place to help us deal with this rising demand..."
“We have introduced more GP hours within our EDs, which has freed up time for senior clinicians to see the sickest patients more quickly. We’re also looking at how we can better stream patients when they arrive in ED to ensure they get the right care, in the right place, at the right time.
The number of people attending the trust's A&E departments last month increased by nearly 3,000 from last year, to 17,523.
Dartford and Gravesham were approached for comment.
More by this authorKatherine Heslop