MORE than 15,000 patients were admitted to Bournemouth and Poole’s emergency departments in the first six weeks of this year.

February started with both hospitals meeting government targets to see 95 per cent of cases in four hours.

However, this was only the first and second time Royal Bournemouth Hospital and Poole Hospital had met the targets in 2015 respectively.

Last month the Daily Echo reported that nurses have worked 90-hour weeks to keep up with the level of demand and at Christmas casualties were left waiting on trolleys for as long as 14 hours.

During the same period, South Western Ambulance Service came close to declaring a “major incident” and revealed it had received up to 3,500 calls in one day.

It begs the questions: why have our health services become so stretched and what can be done to ensure those who need treatment receive it quickly and efficiently?

This is being asked right now by Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group, which is in the process of undertaking a £2.75million county-wide review of care via consultation with clinicians and patients.

The CCG’s chair, Dr Forbes Watson, has identified Dorset’s ageing population as a contributing factor, as well as ongoing financial pressures.

“The evidence we have gathered on the current picture of healthcare shows most patients currently receive good care in Dorset, but there is too much variation, both against national standards and within Dorset itself,” Dr Watson said.

“In addition we know our population is changing and getting older, and that brings new health demands we need to meet.

“The money we have to secure healthcare for local people isn’t increasing at the same rate as rising costs and demand.”

Money and demographics, however, are not the only reasons mooted for the problems.

There was the proposed merger between the hospital trusts in Bournemouth and Poole which was blocked by the Competition Commission in 2013.

Poole Hospital has the sixth highest proportion of emergency work, in relation to planned procedures, in the country after a 1990s review which resulted in the trust being assigned as east Dorset’s trauma centre.

Chief executive Debbie Fleming has said the merger would have readdressed this imbalance and allowed for resources to be combined.

And in 2004 Tony Blair’s government negotiated the General Medical Services Contract which effectively ended regular weekend and evening working for GPs.

In January, when the Echo quizzed Dr Gary Cumberbatch, Poole Hospital’s clinical director for emergency care, he said: “Without a shadow of a doubt if primary care was open seven days a week uniformly then that would certainly reduce the burden.”

He added: “A lot of patients we have come from nursing homes – they have suddenly become unwell, they are a complex patient with complex needs. They are in this hospital and here for some time.

“Any attempt to keep them in the nursing home by the supporting GP goes a long way and is nicer for patients where they are in an environment they know and staff know their needs.

“Some of them can’t communicate very easily, but if they have been there [the care home] for a year then staff know exactly how to look after them. Actually bringing them in here [to the emergency department] is unfair, but often they have no choice because they can’t get the GP access.”

That issue of communication between the social care sector and health services is a critical one, according to Joyce Guest, the new chair of Healthwatch Dorset.

“There is a huge nervousness about sharing data and I feel quite strongly that health professionals should share that data,” she said.

“There are good examples out there where social care and health services are working well together and we need to learn from those and convey that information.

“You can’t just shut your doors for five or six days – you need to have some way in.”

With continued debate about services being moved from hospital clinics into the community, privatisation, funding and structure – health and social care provision is set to be the number one issue in May’s General Election – the result of which could have a lasting impact on Dorset for years to come.