We will meet 4-hour A&E wait this winter - Gloucestershire hospital chief
WHILE emergency departments in hospitals across the country might creak under pressure this winter, Gloucestershire's will stand firm.
That's the strong message being sent out by health chiefs in the county, who say they are confident of hitting their four-hour waiting times for patients at A&E departments over the busy winter period.
A survey of 125 senior hospital leaders across the country revealed that more than half of them feared they would fail to hit the national standard over the season, when the pressure is ratcheted up on staff.
But Eric Gatling, director of service delivery at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said plans were in place to ensure there was no repeat of last winter, when soaring attendances contributed to them missing the four-hour goal.
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"We are currently delivering a four-hour performance and we are confident we will deliver that performance over the coming winter," he said.
"We anticipate it will be a difficult winter, but plans have been put in place to mitigate against any problems that arise.
"We know we get more people coming through the door over the winter period and there is also the potential for a rise in staff sicknesses, so we are working to make sure are able to cope with that.
"The other area we will be working very hard on is discharges.
"We need to ensure that patients who should no longer be in our wards and would be better off receiving other forms of care get moved on to create more space."
Following last winter's failure to meet the four-hour target, trust chief executive Frank Harsent warned that exhausted staff in county emergency departments could start making mistakes unless something was done to ease the pressure on them.
A winter plan was presented to the trust's board last month, outlining how potential problems would be overcome.
Keys to ensuring there is no repeat of last winter's failures include recruiting additional staff.
The trust should have 13 emergency department consultants in post by October and is recruiting abroad for nurses.
The Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which is responsible for how NHS services are delivered, is investing £9million into community and social care to help ease the burden on A&E staff.
Mr Gatling added that patients could do their bit to help county A&E departments run smoothly by not taking up staff time unnecessarily.
"We would ask members of the public to consider whether emergency care is the best setting for them, and to use their GPs wherever it is appropriate," he added.
The winter looks certain to put the county's new A&E arrangements to the test.
Cheltenham's A&E department has been downgraded at night with 'blue light' ambulances sent to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital between 8pm and 8am.
It remains open to walk-in casualties however.
Mr Gatling added that progress under the system had been a case of "so far so good".
A full report will be published on the new A&E arrangements on September 20.