SOUTHEND Hospital A&E is expecting a difficult winter despite new measures brought in to try and cope.

Patient numbers rose three per cent in the first six months of 2018/19 and began to climb further during the autumn.

Patients attending the emergency department rose from 8,684 in September to 8,723 in October.

The rise is broadly the same as last year for this time of year but comes despite a raft of measures taken by Southend Clinical Commissioning Group and Southend Hospital to avoid patients attending A&E.

These include the introduction of a GP streaming service which diverted 84 patients to a GP service within A&E.

A Teletracking system has also been introduced in Southend Hospital to allow medics to electronically monitor available beds across the hospital.

The scheme is aimed at getting patients moving through the emergency department quicker.

Despite this, delays in ambulances waiting outside the hospital for more than an hour were reported.

The report stated: “There was moderate congestion at the front door in October with five one-hour delay breaches for ambulance delays. The number of breaches has increased much further in November - 32 to November 20, but many delays have been avoided by the ability of emergency department to care for a cohort of patients on arrival after handover by the ambulance crews.”

The hospital plans to open an additional six bays for a rapid assessment and treatment area at the front of A&E to help avoid backlogs which last year repeatedly saw the hospital issuing red and black alerts.

Denise Townsend, Director of Nursing at Southend Hospital said: “ The GP streaming unit is for patients who arrive in the emergency department with a condition that would be more appropriately treated by a GP.

“The service is provided by Commissio, a GP led company, on behalf of the hospital and has been running for the past year seeing around 50 patients a day.

“To try and alleviate pressures, we have six rapid assess and treat bays due to open in December at the front of A&E.

“This will see patients moved from an ambulance straight into a RAT bay where a team, led by a senior emergency department consultant or registrar, nurse and emergency department assistant will be able to see and treat patients more quickly.”

Like other hospitals around the country, the hospital is struggling to meet its target of 95 per cent of patients seen in A&E within four hours.

The report performance was highly variable in October, dropping as low as 76 at times but rising to 98 at others.

However, the report said this “deteriorated markedly in November due to lack of flow into medical beds”.

There were 21 days during the month where the trust achieved a performance over 90 per cent and there were just eight days where performance was above 95 per cent.

Clinical commissioning groups and the hospital continue to urge people to seek advice from their GPs as the first destination before attending the A&E department.

Pharmacies also offer advice to patients.