Patients faced long waits in Wigan's A&E unit during omicron surge

Patients seeking help at Wigan Infirmary’s A&E department were met with long waits to be seen and delays in finding empty beds last month, new NHS data has revealed.

January is traditionally a busy month for casualty units around the country, but this year it was compounded by rising numbers of omicron cases after the festive period, Covid-related staff absences and the back-log of patients whose care was delayed earlier in the pandemic.

That demand for care meant some patients had to wait for hours and hours to be seen by a doctor.

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Wigan Infirmary's A&E department

New statistics published by NHS England show only 52.2 per cent of the 7.629 patients who went to Wigan’s A&E were seen within the target time of four hours last month. That compares to 62.3 per cent for all major A&E units across England, but was actually an improvement on Wigan’s December performance of 50.8 per cent.

Across Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 68.9 per cent of casualty patients were seen in four hours, up from 67.2 per cent in December.

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This was boosted by Leigh Walk-In Centre, where 99.6 per cent of people were seen within the target time. Overall, 74.3 per cent of patients in England were seen within four hours at A&Es in January, up slightly from 73.3 per cent in December.

Although it is being scrapped, the current target is for at least 95 per cent of patients attending A&E to be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours. This has not been met nationally since 2015.

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Attendances across Wigan’s hospitals trust stood at 11,772 in December, just below the month before, and there were 2,359 emergency admissions in total. But 1,099 patients had to wait for more than four hours for a bed, after the decision to admit had been made, and 107 waited for longer than 12 hours.

The lack of free beds may have been due to the number of patients being treated elsewhere in the hospital, both those with coronavirus and patients with other needs.

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Nationally, a record 16,558 people had to wait more than 12 hours in A&E departments in England in January from a decision to admit to actually being admitted. The figure is up from 12,986 in December and is the highest for any calendar month since records began in August 2010. Some 122,427 people waited at least four hours from the decision to admit to admission in January, another all-time high and up from 120,218 in December.

Mary Fleming, deputy chief executive of Wigan’s hospitals trust, said: “At the beginning of the new year, the knock-on effect of the omicron variant of Covid-19 saw an impact on WWL’s entire system, including our accident and emergency department.

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“During this time, our priority was emergency care, so that we could treat those patients with serious or life-threatening conditions. However, a combination of extreme pressures and demand on our urgent and emergency care caused much higher than usual waiting times.

“This, combined with an increase in Covid-19 positive patients and delays in discharges to care homes due to Covid-19 outbreaks, coupled with a high number of staff absences due to Covid-19 infection or isolation, created pressure on our services.

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“We are currently in one of our most testing times yet and continue to face significant pressure across all of our services and Covid is still prevalent. We would urge everyone to ensure they and their loved ones are fully protected and vaccinated against Covid-19 and continue to follow guidance around social distancing, wearing a face mask and washing hands.

“Our staff are working incredibly hard to provide care and treatment to patients as quickly as possible, particularly those with life-threatening conditions and I would like to thank them, and the public of Wigan for their continued support.”

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