Waiting times focus ‘too much’

St Helens Hospital
St Helens Hospital
  • Report calls for broader assessment of emergency departments performances
  • Nuffield Trust says too much emphasis is placed on four hour waiting time target
  • Whiston and St Helens hospital staff have been hailed for ‘exceptional professionalism’
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More performance indicators should be taken into account when assessing St Helens’ emergency departments, experts have said.

A report by health think tank Nuffield Trust argued too much emphasis is being placed on the urgent care four hour waiting time target in hospitals across the country.

With the financial squeeze set to continue, there is no relief in sight if we keep up the current approach. We need to rethink our assumptions as many of the ‘magic bullet’ solutions suggested miss the point.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards

New approaches to performance management should be given equal status when judging urgent care performance, the report says.

Emergency departments have been under pressure in recent months with target rates hitting their lowest figures in more than a decade.

But Whiston Hospital’s managers said its A&E staff had demonstrated “exceptional professionalism” in coping through the winter crisis.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “With the financial squeeze set to continue, there is no relief in sight if we keep up the current approach.

“We need to rethink our assumptions as many of the ‘magic bullet’ solutions suggested miss the point.

“It’s not about more people turning up, but about a system with a squeeze on hospital space and staff, which needs to get better at discharging people safely and on time.”

The report claims the urgent care system in England “is near breaking point” but the problems are complex and not well understood.

And other issues, such as waiting times to treatment and re-attendances within seven days, should be taken into account when making performance judgements.

A&E departments are expected to have patients admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, according to NHS guidelines.