Thousands waiting more than 12 hours in Whipps A&E

Almost one in six patients who arrive in ambulances wait longer than an hour outside

By Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Whipps Cross University Hospital in Leytonstone

At least 1,100 patients a month at Whipps Cross A&E waited longer than 12 hours to be treated in the last three months of last year.

In October, November and December, the Leytonstone hospital struggled with bed occupancy rates of higher than 98%. The NHS sets a target of 92% occupancy to ensure new patients can still be seen.

The hospital’s “extremely busy” A&E means ambulances are unable to drop off arriving patients, with almost one in six waiting over an hour outside the building.

Whipps Cross is run by Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs five East London hospitals with three A&E departments and is currently struggling with 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.

“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.”

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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 demand to decrease before spring.

However, responding to a question by Waltham Forest Save Our NHS campaigner Terry Day, he 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 waitlists for elective surgery, cancer and diagnostic tests.

Chris 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 as a whole, which has a “backlog” of 536 patients who have waited longer than two weeks since their referral to be seen by a hospital.

One in five patients at Barts’ hospitals has 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.”

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