A&E back on track but cancer targets are missed and beds blocked at Sheffield hospitals

Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.
Northern General Hospital A&E department, Sheffield.
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Patients are being seen on time in A&E at Sheffield’s hospitals - but too many are waiting for cancer treatment and bed-blocking led to over 1,600 days of wasted care in a single month, figures have revealed.

More than 95 per cent of patients at the city’s main accident and emergency unit are being seen within four hours, according to statistics released by NHS England which gauge Sheffield hospitals’ performance against several different targets.

But Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust missed the target to begin treating 85 per cent of cancer patients within two months of an urgent referral from a GP.

And patients spent 1,667 ‘bed days’ stuck on wards, despite being well enough to leave.

The figures, which cover June, showed that more than 10,000 patients attended A&E at the Northern General, and that 95.3 per cent were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

The official target is 95 per cent. June was only the second month the requirement has been met since last October.

Meanwhile 82.5 per cent of cancer patients started treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral - missing the 85 per cent standard.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals - which runs the specialist Weston Park cancer hospital, as well as the Royal Hallamshire and the Northern General - also missed the 93 per cent target for patients with breast symptoms, where cancer was not initially suspected, being seen by a consultant within 14 days of an urgent referral from a doctor. Sheffield saw 92.4 per cent within two weeks.

Most of the bed-blocking patients were waiting for an assessment to be completed before being discharged. Over 930 bed days were lost because of delays with assessments, while 540 days were lost while further NHS care was arranged.

However, the figure for June was down on the same month last year, when 1,892 days of care were lost.

Bed-blocking - known in the health service as a ‘delayed transfer of care’ - limits the numbers of new admissions which can be made on hospital wards.

Kirsten Major, the trust’s director of strategy and operations, said: “Our staff work exceptionally hard to provide high quality care, with as short a waiting time as possible. In the vast majority of cases we achieve this. After a very difficult winter, we are extremely pleased with the improved performance regarding the length of time patients spend in the A&E department and we have met the target in both May and June. With approximately 350 patients being treated every day, we do have challenging days but the whole team is working hard to continue to see and treat people as quickly as possible.”

Ms Major added: “Our cancer treatment waiting times are among the lowest in the NHS. The waiting times standards we are required to meet are based on quarterly performance and not monthly - we have met all seven of the cancer target times each quarter for the last four years, with the exception of one target in one quarter. Our staff pride themselves on providing excellent cancer care in a timely way and our patient satisfaction feedback reflects this.”

She continued: “We have also had some success, by working with community and social care, in reducing the number of delayed discharges compared to this time last year.”