Hospitals have called for urgent systemic changes to the NHS after figures revealed the crisis currently hitting West Midlands A&E departments.
Some patients have endured 12-hour waits in casualty and three NHS trusts running hospitals in Birmingham failed to hit national targets, which demand just five per cent of patients wait longer than four hours.
The city’s worst-performing was Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Heartlands, Solihull and Good Hope hospitals.
Almost 15 per cent of patients who arrived at the organisation’s A&E units between January and the end of March waited for between four and 12 hours. Worse still, five patients had to wait for 12 hours or more, but it was not known which of the trust’s hospitals were involved in those cases.
Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs City and Sandwell General hospitals, also fared badly, with more than ten per cent of patients waiting more than four hours.
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, fell short of the five per cent target, with fewer than 94 per cent of patients seen within four hours.
But Birmingham Children’s Hospital came within the timeframe, with just 2.1 per cent of patients stuck in A&E for more than four hours.
Nationally, waiting times hit a nine-year high, with almost six per cent of patients waiting in A&E units for four hours or more.
Labour-run Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Coun Steve Bedser, said: “The people of Birmingham deserve better. This is a crisis and action must be taken now.
“One immediate issue is the need for more social care intervention to prevent unnecessary A&E visits. This Government has dramatically cut funding to local authorities, meaning many older people miss out on the care they need at home and that puts added pressure on the NHS.”
A Department of Health spokesman said A&E departments were under huge stress, with more than a million more patients visiting than three years ago.
“We are working with the NHS to address the long-term problems facing A&E,” he said. “NHS England is ensuring money is freed up and available to improve A&E services so they are better able to cope next winter.”
Dr Aresh Anwar, medical director at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The pressures felt in our emergency care departments have also been reflected in departments across the region and, indeed, across the whole of the healthcare economy in recent months.
“This is due to several reasons, including increased number of patients, increased frailty of patients and increased complexity of patients due to increasing chronic disease. A system change is needed and the trust has been liaising with all our partners in health to help reduce the anticipated impact of seasonal increases in demand.
“We continue to work with them and a programme of work is being undertaken to determine how the situation can be improved moving forward.
“We are proud of our emergency department staff who continue to put every effort into delivering the best possible care for all of our patients and ensuring safety and dignity are maintained.”
A Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust spokesman said: “It is unacceptable to everyone in our organisation that we were not able to treat as many patients within four hours as we should have done over the last few months.
“Our difficulty this winter has been quite specific. We have had a sustained period of norovirus infection, which has been difficult to tackle because of the age of our buildings.
"This has resulted in closed wards. During this time we have worked successfully with local GPs and the ambulance service to manage patients arriving at our two A&E departments. In the last two months that work has shown substantial improvements in waiting times and in patients’ experience of care.”
University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust would not comment on the figures.
However, a spokeswoman for Birmingham Children’s Hospital, said: “We continually strive to improve our services and while we are very pleased that almost 98 per cent of our children and young people who visited the emergency department were seen within four hours, we are never complacent.
“Over the last 12 months, staff from across the hospital have worked hard to ensure we continue to give first-class timely care, despite the ever-increasing demands on our emergency department.
“Recent improvements in our emergency department include an increase in the number of nurses, senior and junior doctors, the provision of a daily doctor-led acute clinic and the introduction of a new 24/7 high dependency response team.
"Our emergency department is undergoing an expansion and refurbishment as part of an £800,000 investment, funded through donations from the local Birmingham community.”