A&E targets still being missed in Sheffield

Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Sir Andrew Cash, Chief Executive, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
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Sheffield’s main A&E department is continuing to miss national targets for treating patients within four hours.

The national target for seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours is still not being hit at the Northern General Hospital.

While the situation has improved slightly from December, when just 84 per cent of patients were seen in time, problems have continued in the opening weeks of 2015.

A meeting of the board of Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust heard yesterday that 89 per cent of patients were seen in time in January, with an 88 per cent success rate so far in February.

The ongoing challenges led chief executive Sir Andrew Cash to call for the current 95 per cent target system to be refined.

Sir Andrew said NHS England’s director for acute episodes of care Professor Keith Willett is currently examining whether the blanket target is the right system for judging the performance of A&E units.

“At the moment, a minor case that doesn’t necessarily need to be in A&E that goes beyond four hours is treated the same way as a very urgent case,” he said.

“We need to be hitting the target for the right cases. The target is a good one but the generally feel is it needs to be a qualitative target.

“It is not quite fit for purpose at the moment.”

Kirsten Major, director of strategy and operations, said the hospital had a ‘very difficult weekend’ on Saturday and Sunday and there was no immediate prospect of things improving.

She said many of those attending A&E are frail and elderly, with complex health needs.

Medical director Dr David Throssell said it was still unclear why there had been a national surge of demand on A&E units this winter.

But he said an increase in flu cases and people with respiratory illness had contributed to the challenges being faced in Sheffield.

Chairman Tony Pedder thanked hospital staff for their work in attempting to manage this winter’s heavy caseload.

“Staff have worked incredibly hard over a long period now. This has been going on for some weeks,” he said.

Unprecedented demand on Sheffield’s A&E this winter resulted in the Red Cross being called in to provide emergency support at the height of the crisis at the start of January.

The charity, best known for providing emergency responses in international crises, provided two ambulances and teams to help transport patients in Sheffield – the first time it had ever been called upon to help city health services.