Outbreaks of flu and norovirus have been blamed for a rise in waiting times at Wigan’s A&E department, after it was named the second worst-performing trust in the country last month.
NHS England data shows Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust saw just 63.7 per cent of patients in four hours in January, dropping from 77.2 per cent in December.
Nationally, 84.4 per cent of patients were treated or admitted within four hours, the worst performance since the target was introduced in 2004.
Mary Fleming, the trust’s chief operating officer, has now spoken about the long waiting times at Wigan Infirmary’s casualty unit.
She said: “The main reason for the long waiting times in the accident and emergency department at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in January was due to bed closures due to infectious disease outbreaks.
“A total of 28 beds remained closed throughout the month due to a combination of flu and norovirus outbreaks. This restricted the number of beds available for admissions and prevented discharge for patients whose care in the hospital was complete, but were unable to return to their nursing or residential home due to outbreaks in the hospital and community. The infection outbreaks also affected staffing levels within the hospital."
The hospital has the lowest bed base per 1,000 population in Greater Manchester, so even small changes such as a reduction in the number of available beds or increases in demand can have a significant impact on patient waiting times in A&E.
As well as bed closures, January saw an eight per cent increase in attendances to A&E, when compared with December, and a 16 per cent increase when compared with January the previous year.
“A&E services in Wigan are not alone in the issues facing the health service at this time. Only two major emergency departments in England met the four-hour target last month and attendances have risen by an astonishing 85,000 compared with January last year, and are on the increase.”
Ms Fleming thanked the trust’s staff and partners for their “hard work and dedication” during “a very difficult period”.
She urged people to consider seeking help elsewhere if they have minor injuries or ailments, such as from a pharmacist, GP, walk-in centre or NHS 111.
She added: “Additionally, if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms or episodes of diarrhoea and vomiting, please avoid visiting our hospital sites.”