LITTLE more than half of all patients attending a full-to-bursting A&E at the Royal Gwent Hospital last month were dealt with inside four hours, as emergency departments in Gwent as a whole recorded their busiest ever December.

And the Royal Gwent unit is now the subject of a 12-week 'targeted intervention' by the Welsh Government's Delivery Unit - which monitors and manages performance across the NHS in Wales, and provides support in areas where that performance is deteriorating.

During December, emergency departments at Gwent hospitals struggled to cope with:

  • 14,533 attendances - the most ever recorded for that month;
  • 2,093 attendances by patients aged 75 and over - the biggest recorded monthly total;
  • 3,062 admissions to hospital from A&E - the biggest recorded monthly total;
  • 995 A&E waits of more than 12 hours (852 of them at the Royal Gwent) - the biggest recorded monthly total.

Increasing numbers of patients attending emergency departments in Wales have been waiting longer than four hours to be dealt with, a situation that worsened through last autumn.

In December, just 53 per cent of patients attending the department at the Royal Gwent were dealt with inside four hours, compared to 58.6 per cent in November and 61.4 per cent in October.

This was comfortably the worst December performance for four-hour waits among A&E units in south Wales, though two others - at Wrexham Maelor Hospital and Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, both in north Wales - came in at 52.2 per cent and 52.5 per cent respectively.

Aneurin Bevan University Health Board chief executive Judith Paget stressed that the targeted intervention by the Welsh Government's Delivery Unit at the Royal Gwent's A&E department did not amount to it being put into special measures.

The action, which began shortly before Christmas, is "specifically related to urgent care performance at the Royal Gwent", she told board members, and is focusing on "how we might improve our emergency performance" amid ongoing pressures.

"We have not been moved into special measures," she said, adding that the national performance framework which measures health boards' performance in Wales - and rates from 'routine' to 'special measures' - has recently confirmed the status of Aneurin Bevan UHB as 'routine'.

Of December, finance and performance director Glyn Jones said the health board had faced a "very significant challenge in terms of demand", with far more emergency attendances than usual from very complex older patients.

He added that there are "encouraging signs" of improvement so far this month, with 74.7 per cent of patients across all emergency departments being dealt with inside four hours, as of January 21. The Gwent-wide figure for December was 68.2 per cent.

January figures to date, he said, suggest the number of waits of more than 12 hours in A&E will be "a lot lower than December", and while the situation remains very challenging, "we seem to have responded to winter pressures quite well so far, and hope to continue through the rest of the winter."