January 'busiest month' for emergency units in Wales

Image caption The University Hospital of Wales' emergency unit saw 5,310 patients alone in January

Accident and emergency departments in Wales had their busiest month on record, according to new figures.

There were 80,438 attendances at urgent care departments across Wales in January, compared to 73,435 attendances the previous winter.

The proportion of patients waiting over four hours rose in January compared to December. It was also up on 2015.

Deputy Health Minister Vaughan Gething said despite the pressures, NHS staff "continue to manage" surges in demand.

In January 2016, just 78.5% of cases spent less than four hours in major or minor A&E units before being treated, discharged or transferred - a deterioration from 81.4% in December 2015 and 82.4% in January 2015.

The target is that 95% of patients should spend no longer than four hours in urgent care units.

January is usually one of the busiest months of the year for emergency care.

However the figures this year show a sharp increase in the number of people attending A&E compared to last winter.

The Welsh government said it was the busiest month on record for A&E units, since the current system of measuring was introduced in 2006.

The figures show:

  • 2,595 people a day - an average of 108 patients an hour - attended emergency departments in January.
  • Despite the sharp increase in attendances, there was a slight improvement in the proportion of patients spending the longest time in A&E compared to January last year. In January, 95.9% of patients were seen within 12 hours, up from 95.8% in the same month in 2015.
  • The average time spent in an emergency department was 2 hours and 10 minutes.

'Working hard'

Mr Gething said: "On some days in January, the number of people attending emergency departments was up to 25% higher than the same time last year.

"Management information also shows that on some days, ambulance arrivals at Welsh hospitals were also up to 25% higher this January than the average last year."

Last week, an extra £45m of new investment was announced to help health boards manage winter pressures.

The University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff - Wales' biggest - saw a year-on-year rise of 13% in people attending A&E in January 2016.

The greatest increase was seen in patients attending with minor injuries. There were 500 patients alone seen on 15 January, which coincided with icy conditions.

Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales said: "Emergency department staff are working hard to deliver local winter plans and ensure long waits in the department are minimised."

But Shadow Conservative health minister Darren Millar said: "In January more patients than ever faced waits of more than 12 hours in an emergency unit; a painful, worrying and potentially dangerous wait for treatment."

Welsh Lib Dem leader Kirsty Williams added: "When questioned the first minister and health minister repeatedly told me that robust winter plans were in place, yet the figure for the number of people waiting under four hours has fallen below 80% for the first time in years."

Plaid Cymru health spokeswoman Elin Jones said: "Labour's failure to manage our public services is really letting people down and putting NHS staff under incredible pressure."

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