Winter woes hit Lancashire's health services

An ambulance bay
An ambulance bay

Patients’ procedures are set to be cancelled across Lancashire hospitals as healthcare pressures continue to be felt across the county.

And while the exact number of affected procedures across the Preston area remains unconfirmed, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) trust has confirmed that ‘non urgent’ procedures, some day case, and some outpatient appointments, will be postponed “in line with the national guidance.”

Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Karen Partington, chairman of the Central Lancashire A&E delivery board and LTH chief executive, said: “Like other NHS organisations across the country, we have seen an increase in respiratory conditions, more severe illness, and an increase in flu which means our hospitals are very busy.

“To plan appropriately for rising demand many hospitals carry out fewer scheduled operations at this time of year. In line with national recommendations we are currently reviewing the schedule of operations and outpatient appointments planned for January.

“We will contact patients directly if we need to reschedule any operations and appointments – if you don’t hear from us please come to hospital as planned.”

The cancellation of patients’ pre-planned appointments comes as A&E ambulance waiting times have soared during the festive period.

Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

NHS England data reveals that more than half of patients (53 per cent) arriving by ambulance at LTH during Christmas week experienced handover delays of over half an hour, with the week before seeing more than a quarter (25.6 per cent) experiencing the same delays.

The Department of Health states that ambulance crews should be able to hand patients over to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arrival at hospital, and not doing so increases the risk to patients due to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Across LTH, 94.4 per cent of beds were occupied for Christmas week – three per cent higher than the national average. It marked a slight alleviation from the week prior, which had an occupancy rate of 95.9 per cent – five per cent higher than the national average of 90.9 per cent. The recommended safe limit is 85.

On a national scale, 16,900 waited more than 30 minutes to be seen by staff at emergency departments over Christmas week, up from 11,900 the week before.

Ms Partington said LTH staff are working alongside ambulance colleagues showing “great commitment and compassion” during an “exceptionally busy period.”

She added: “We are working with the national emergency care teams to help us eliminate delays in how we manage urgent admissions. We trust that everyone understands we must prioritise those who need emergency treatment for serious and life and limb threatening conditions.”

Denis Gizzi, Deputy Chair of the central Lancashire A&E Delivery Board, added: “At this exceptionally busy time, we encourage everyone to use NHS services appropriately. Pharmacists can offer over-the-counter medicines for a range of winter illnesses, and NHS 111 can provide medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"Nearly all GPs in our area are also offering additional evening and weekend appointments, and patients should enquire at their practice for details.

“Making best use of the services available can help free up hospital services for those who are seriously ill.”