The NHS trust that manages five East London hospitals is struggling with “extremely busy” emergency departments and one of the largest waiting lists for treatment in the country.
Barts Health NHS Trust runs Whipps Cross Hospital, Newham Hospital and the Royal London Hospital – which have A&E departments – as well as two hospitals without: Mile End Hospital and St Bartholomew’s Hospital.
At the three A&E departments, more than four in ten patients wait longer than four hours to be seen, while the overall trust has the sixth longest waitlist for treatment in the country.
The trust’s Chair Jacqui Smith said this winter has been “tougher than anyone has ever experienced”, adding: “The whole system is effectively under sustained pressure.”
At Whipps Cross Hospital, bed occupancy rates have been at more than 98 percent in October, November and December – significantly higher than the NHS target of 92 percent.
This is impacting ambulance handovers at the hospital’s A&E, with almost one in six people (15 percent) waiting more than sixty minutes to be admitted.
In each of those months, at least 1,100 patients waited for more than 12 hours in A&E before being treated.
Almost one in ten beds at the trust’s four hospitals are occupied by patients deemed ready for discharge but who are waiting for appropriate care arrangements before they can leave.
Dr Smith said: “Too often, the demand for services is outstripping the capacity of the people working here, however, we are working hard to deliver.
“We’ve had 10,000 attendances in our emergency departments in the week running up to Christmas, that’s an enormous amount of demand and pressure on the system.”
Interim Chief Operating Officer for Barts Health Chris Pocklington said the A&E waits are “unacceptable” but that it would be “unrealistic” to expect the high demand to decrease before spring.
However, responding to a question by Waltham Forest Save Our NHS campaigner Terry Day, Pocklington said there is “no indicator” so far that delays have led to an increase in patient deaths.
While grappling with the pressures on its A&E departments, the trust – one of the largest in the country – is also trying to stay on top of waiting lists for elective surgery, cancer and diagnostic tests.
Chris Pocklington said: “We are endeavouring as far as possible to maintain as much elective care as we can despite the pressure.
“There’s been no systematic cancellation across the block, however, Whipps Cross experiences this more than Newham.”
Urgent cancer referrals remain a concern for the trust, with a “backlog” of 536 patients waiting longer than two weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment.
One in five patients at Barts’ hospitals waited more than six weeks for diagnostic tests – the third worst performance out of London’s 18 hospital trusts.
In the national drive to cut NHS waiting lists, the trust saw the number of people waiting more than two years drop from 232 in April 2022 to 18.
In the same period, the number of patients waiting for more than 18 months almost halved to 766.
Pocklington added: “The challenge in the first instance is to get activity back to previous levels and then ahead of where we were.”