RISING A&E visits are seeing hospital staff struggle to meet waiting times, despite the summer being a traditionally quieter period, health officials have warned.

A key waiting time target was not met by the county’s hospital authority from April to June, leaving almost 3,000 patients waiting over four hours.

There were 16,749 visits to A&E in April and May, 2.8 per cent up on 16,296 seen in the same period last year and six per cent up on 15,808 in 2012.

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (OCCG) interim director of delivery and localities Regina Shakespeare said: “We are in summer and so we are struggling to understand and to find supported trends or particular themes that will explain this.”

She said the rise in numbers was “very unusual” adding: “It is almost as if it has become even more difficult.”

Getting patients to specialist doctors and testing equipment quicker is vital at Oxford’s John Radcliffe and Banbury’s Horton General hospitals, she said.

Ms Shakespeare added: “The truth is that our patients find it convenient and reassuring to attend A&E in increasing numbers year on year. We simply accept that is the case.”

But she said: “I am very pleased to see we have some green shoots of recovery.”

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs the hospitals – hit the four-hour target in just one of the three weeks to July 20.

This meant 559 people who attended were not discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours of arrival and 7,196 were, equating to about 90 per cent of patients – the target is at least 95 per cent.

A total 2,950 visits were not seen within four hours from April to June.

City GP and board member Dr David Chapman said of the “peculiar” rise: “It is very interesting that the summer is a busy time whereas our belief is that, actually, it shouldn’t be.”

Urgent care lead for OCCG Dr Andrew Burnett said at yesterday’s board meeting that sports injuries, A&E staff holidays and the county’s ageing population with more complex conditions could be behind the increase.

Board member Dr Julie Anderson said referrals by the NHS 111 phone advice service added to pressure, though Dr Burnett said it was working well overall.

Clinical chairman and city GP Dr Joe McManners said summer students and visitors were more likely to use A&E. And Dr Paul Park said a “lack of uptake” of the Oxfordshire Care Summary by GPs and A&E to electronically share patient records should be examined.

But Rachel Coney, chief executive of Healthwatch Oxfordshire, the official NHS watchdog, said the repeated failures were “clearly unacceptable”.

She said: “Local people have the right to services that meet the core promises and pledges about NHS care set out in the NHS Constitution.”

Hospital trust clinical director Dr James Price said A&E has been “busier than ever”.

He said: “Our teams prioritise the provision of safe, effective, dignified care for patients.

“We have made further changes to enhance patient care, including environmental improvements, recruitment of additional senior clinical staff, opening of additi-onal capacity and improved access to tests such as CT scanning.”

Let us know your A&E experiences on news@oxfordmail.co.uk or 01865 425445.

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