“UNPRECEDENTED demand” has led to more people waiting more than four hours in A&E units last month.

The latest figures from NHS England show Royal Bournemouth Hospital treated 84.7 per cent of patients in A&E within four hours, while Poole Hospital saw 85.5 per cent of patients within the target.

The average for December across England was 85.1 per cent.

The operational standard for A&E waiting times is that 95 per cent of patients should be admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival at an A&E department.

In November, Poole, saw 93.1 per cent within four hours and Royal Bournemouth Hospital met the target at 95 per cent.

It comes as waiting time performances in accident and emergency departments across England reached their lowest level in 14 years.

Official figures released show the NHS ended the year with the same A&E waiting time performance level in December, as at the start of the year, equalling January’s record low and the worst result since the target was introduced in 2004.

Chief operating officer at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, Richard Renaut, said: “The four hour target is an important standard for our patients and our dedicated staff work incredibly hard to treat patients as quickly as possible.

“Throughout the year we’ve consistently been in the top quarter of trusts in the country for this target.

“However, like most trusts, we’ve had an incredibly busy winter already with an unprecedented demand on our services. The number of patients coming into our Emergency Department has increased, in particular those with very complex health needs who have then required a longer stay in our hospital.

“The most serious emergency admissions rose by 9% compared to December 2016 and we’ve also seen a very high number of people with flu this year, some who have needed intensive care treatment, which has added additional pressure.”

Mr Renaut thanked all the staff and volunteers, and reminded the public to “choose well” over where they sought treatment.

Dr Gary Cumberbatch, clinical director for emergency care at Poole Hospital, said: “Poole Hospital’s emergency department coped well in December, contending with a number of flu cases and managing a substantial quantity of patients with serious illness.

“Despite this, the overwhelming majority of patients were seen, treated, admitted or discharged within the four hour standard.”

South Western Ambulance Service Trust also revealed they are under “severe pressure”, dealing with 25,000 incidents already this year.

It is among nine of the 10 ambulance services in England on the second-highest alert level.

The pressure is made worse by overcrowded hospitals at this time of year, leading to long handover times for ambulances at busy A&E departments.