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Dramatic fall in A&E visits in lockdown

Attendance at accident and emergency departments within North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust (NWAFT) fell by 14% year-on-year in February, according to the latest NHS England figures.
Peterborough city hospital
Peterborough City Hospital was inspected in December 2020, with credit given to staff working at A&E departments (Photo: John Baker)

In figures released today, March 11, NHS England reveal that the total number of visits to A&E in February 2021 was 11,203, with 9,933 at major departments and 1,270 at minor injury units. Of these, 76.8% were seen in four hours or less.

This was a fall of 14% in comparison to February 2020 when a total of 16,911 people visited NWAFT emergency departments, both major and minor injury units, and 71.8% were seen in four hours or less.

After adjusting for the leap year in 2020, NHS England said attendances across the entire country were down year-on-year by 33%.

NHS England said the drop is "likely to be a result of the Covid-19 response" – suggesting that people are still staying away from A&E departments because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Attendance figures have risen since the peak of the pandemic, however; in April 2020, at the beginning of the first lockdown, fewer than 8,000 people attended NWAFT emergency departments for treatment. By August, nearly 17,000 A&E attendances were recorded, before the second wave saw figures fall slightly once again.

The emergency department at Peterborough hospital was inspected by the Care Quality Commission in December 2020, with the report highlighting the challenges faced by frontline NHS staff in Peterborough.

During the inspected months, hospital bed capacity was routinely above 90%, which impacted on the ability to transfer patients out of the emergency department and into the ward areas. Some patients were being held on ambulances due to capacity issues, meaning that ambulance turnaround times were higher than targeted.

Speaking about the inspection results - which praised hospital leadership and staff commitment within the emergency department – chief executive Caroline Walker said: "We are really pleased to see such a positive reflection of the hard work and commitment that staff put into our emergency department.

"We always strive to provide excellent care to our patients and their families during what can be an incredibly difficult and worrying time for them.

"One of the notable elements of the CQC report identified the positive impact on leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic. The emergency department clinical teams have really pulled together in the face of adversity and they’ve embraced new ways of working which isn’t always easy.

"We still have lessons to learn but we have a very open and honest culture and we will deliver change by engaging our staff in new developments to help ensure we are constantly making improvements where needed."