How NHS in Northumberland is dealing with winter pressures so far

Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, in Cramlington.
Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, in Cramlington.

Northumberland’s emergency hospital has hit its performance target for A&E waiting times so far this winter for the first time in three years.

In quarter three of this year, from October to December, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust met the mark for 95 per cent of emergency-department patients being seen within four hours.

This followed decent, above-target performances in quarters one and two this year, meaning an overall trend of improvement compared to 2017-18 and 2016-17.

The monthly figures have fluctuated, with December missing the 95 per cent mark, but this is against a backdrop of having seen 10,000 extra patients so far in 2018-19 – a rise of 7.4 per cent.

Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee meeting last Tuesday (January 8) also heard during a winter planning update how ‘reset days’ in December had worked well for the area’s hospitals.

December 12 and 13 saw staff only focus on clinical work that would add value, resulting in bed occupancy dropping to 73 per cent; nationally, a target of under 85 per cent has been set this winter to try to help NHS trusts cope with additional winter pressures.

A fortnight of reset days this month are not likely to have as much of an impact though, as all of the patients who can go home have already done so, councillors were told.

However, despite the good news, Northumbria Healthcare’s chief operating officer, Helen Ray, recognised that this winter has not been very severe yet and the worst could still be to come.

Plus, several risks remain, including staff shortages, home-care provision and patient transfer, with work ongoing to mitigate them.

Nursing gaps remain a concern, with North Tyneside described as a ‘hotspot’, although staffing has always been at a level which is safe, while the length of stay at Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, in Cramlington, is ‘drifting’.

Ambulance flows remains an issue too, with up to 130 a day visiting the Northumbria. “Yesterday (Monday, January 7), we had some extremely long and unacceptable waits,” Mrs Ray said.

In the primary-care sector, NHS Northumberland CCG arranged for 1,000 extra extended-hours GP appointments to be made available in December, with around 700 being taken up. However, none of the additional appointments were used on Sunday, December 23 or 30.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service