How much strain is the NHS under in Peterborough?
As politicians argue over who to trust on the NHS, in Peterborough the problems are stark.
This week has seen the onset of winter weather, but, like many other parts of the country, the annual crisis has already begun with the Peterborough Telegraph reporting a fortnight ago that A&E response times at the city hospital had plummeted, while ambulances were being kept waiting for hours before being able to hand over patients.
To gain a better understanding of why services are so stretched, the PT spoke to two health professionals who work at the hospital in Bretton who spoke to us on condition of anonymity. We then raised a number of the issues with the North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, for its response.
Issues which were raised included:
. Ambulances waiting up to six hours to hand over patients
. Staff shortages due to EU workers leaving after the Brexit vote in 2016
. A hefty annual bill for agency staff
. Patients being transferred to Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon.
One of the workers the PT spoke to said: “The NHS I love has been decimated. I come home in tears sometimes. I don’t care who but I want people to fix it.”
In October, the percentage of A&E patients treated, discharged or admitted within four hours at the trust was 75.8 per cent – well below the 95 per cent national target and substantially down on the 92.6 per cent figure from a year earlier.
Issues raised with the PT included a shortage of beds and difficulties in being able to discharge patients into the community.
Responding to the points raised, Graham Wilde, chief operating officer at the trust, said: “As has already been widely reported in the national news, all hospitals between October 2018 and October 2019 have experienced significant increases in demand and activity.
“This, along with other challenges, such as staff shortages, has resulted in a decline in overall performance for our trust. By working closely with our community partners we are working to regain our performance.”
Mr Wilde acknowledged the “national shortage” of doctors and nurses, with the trust’s vacancy rate increasing from 9.7 per cent last year to 10.5 per cent.
The number of EU members of staff has dropped by 26 from 442 in 2018 to 416: “for varying reasons”, although spending on agency staff is on course to reduce from £25 million to around £17 million.
Mr Wilde added: “Patients are only ever transferred to other hospitals based on their clinical need and we have very strict criteria that must be met before a patient is considered fit for discharge.
“We are incredibly thankful and grateful to our committed and dedicated workforce who go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis. They are often under immense strain but they continue to uphold our values and provide outstanding care to our patients.”
UNISON regional organiser Sam Older said: “Peterborough’s health services are nearing crisis point, with the Accident and Emergency department increasingly unable to bear the pressure.
“Ambulance staff have spent more than six hours queuing outside the A&E, unable to hand patients over and get back out on the road.”
Chief executive of Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Melanie Wicklen, said: “Age UK Cambridgeshire and Peterborough appreciates the pressure being experienced by the city hospital, especially over the winter period when enabling patients to return home at the right time, with the right support in place, is key to preventing avoidable re-admissions.
“Recently awarded NHS England funds will enable Age UK locally to support patients on discharge from hospital, effectively enhancing practical and community based services delivered by Age UK, British Red Cross and St John Ambulance, through increasing capacity.”