Hospitals fight to keep up standards amid health service’s winter crisis

Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.
Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.

Confidence in Sheffield’s NHS services was shaken this week – but bosses have insisted staff are working as hard as possible amid a wider crisis in the health service.

The Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh told Parliament that a man from the city died after waiting two hours and 40 minutes for an ambulance.

The man, aged 79, died in November after initially complaining of chest pains. The 999 call was logged as ‘code yellow’ meaning the incident is a ‘potentially serious condition’.

Under guidelines, the ambulance should have arrived within 40 minutes.

But the man had died by the time paramedics arrived.

Ms Haigh, who represented the constituent, said the NHS at present is under ‘unprecedented pressure’ and called for the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make urgent funding available to avert a ‘winter crisis’.

She said that nationally the number of patients waiting for ambulances for more than an hour had almost tripled in the past two years, and that ambulance crews were wasting more than 500,000 hours queuing outside hospitals.

Meanwhile, problems with bed-blocking have led to a 75 per cent increase in the number of hospital operations being cancelled.

The Porterbrook, in Crosspool, is one of a number of private care homes being used to ease the shortage of beds. Ten of its 44 spaces have been made available to the Northern General Hospital.

However, Sheffield’s main A&E departments are hitting national targets to see A&E patients within four hours.

The latest NHS figures showed 94.7 per cent of people visiting A&E at the Northern General were seen within four hours.

At the city’s Children’s Hospital, 98 per cent of youngsters were seen within four hours.

Kirsten Major, director of strategy and operations at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Just like most other hospitals across the NHS we have continued to see high numbers of people attending A&E throughout the winter months, and in particular there is a high number of sick patients who need admission to hospital.

“Our staff work exceptionally hard and all patients are triaged on arrival to determine their clinical need.

“It is testament to our fantastic staff that even at our busiest times we have not closed our doors and indeed on average eight out of 10 patients are treated and discharged or admitted within four hours of arrival at the emergency department.”

Ms Major added: “Last year we achieved 94.7 per cent and our year to date figure so far is 84.6 per cent.

“We do of course prioritise the sickest patients over those who have more minor injuries or illnesses.”

Freedom of Information Requests found two patients died at the Northern General within the space of a fortnight last March. One died after a delay in treatment and the other following a delayed diagnosis. The fatalities were among five recorded by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals during 2016 which happened after suspected safety errors.

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