MORE than 20 per cent of patients at Southampton General Hospital had to wait longer than four hours to be seen in A&E last month.

The trust says meeting the official NHS waiting times target has become “extremely difficult” due to “significant increases” in the number of patients.

Figures released by NHS England for December 2019 show just 78.3 per cent were admitted, transferred or discharged in less than four hours after arriving.

A total of 11,586 people came through the doors of the A&E department, with 2,509 having to wait longer than four hours across the 31-day period.

Casualty units are set a target of seeing at least 95 per cent of patients within four hours but last month the national performance of just 79.8 per cent was the worst achieved since the performance records began in 2004.

A spokesperson for the trust said: “The NHS nationally has been unable to meet the 95 per cent four-hour emergency access target – to see, diagnose, treat and either discharge or admit a patient – since 2015, and performance against it has dropped to its lowest levels over recent months, which is a reflection of the huge pressures on the system.

“As one of the country’s largest acute trusts, contending with significant increases in the numbers of patients we are admitting and treating and the complexities of their conditions, trying the meet the target has become extremely difficult.

“Our aim is to ensure all patients in our emergency department receive the right clinical care in a timely manner and there are occasions when some patients will wait for longer periods as a result of the clinical urgency of others, particularly at times of high demand.

“We continue to work hard to manage these pressures and improve performance through measures such as expanding our emergency department and the use of same day emergency care, as well as reducing delayed discharges to help free up capacity and flow of patients through the hospital.”

Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which manages Winchester Hospital, as well as sites in Andover and Basingstoke, delivered just 76 per cent on the A&E performance target. Its chief medical officer Lara Alloway said: “We are sorry that some of our patients faced long waits in our emergency departments during December.

“We do not want anybody to spend longer than is absolutely necessary in our emergency departments, but we faced unprecedented demand on our services throughout 2019, with an unexpected eight per cent rise in the number of patients attending our emergency departments and minor injuries unit.

“Over the course of 2019, we cared for over 10,000 patients more than we did in 2018. To put that in context, we treated roughly 10,000 patients on average each month in 2018, so last year we cared for an extra month’s worth of patients.

“In addition to this increase in demand, patients who require our help during the winter months tend to be more unwell and need to be in hospital for longer. This means that our hospitals fill up, making it hard to find beds for new patients needing to be admitted from the emergency department. Our emergency departments continue to be very busy. Please think carefully about whether your illness is an emergency before you come to the emergency department.”