NEARLY 1,000 patients at Poole Hospital waited longer than four hours to access A&E last month.

The trust saw 936 patients left waiting for longer than the target period between arrival and admission, transfer or discharge. At the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals (RBCH) 509 patients faced a four hour delay or more, and 220 at Dorset County Hospital.

Hospitals across the UK have been struggling with high admission rates over the winter period, described by NHS bosses as a “crisis”.

Yet in Dorset, the delay figures matched or exceeded the average for England.

The percentage of patients admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours was 85 per cent at Poole Hospital – the England average – and 93 per cent at RBCH and 97 per cent at Dorset.

But they fell below the ‘operational standard for A&E waiting times’, which is 95 per cent.

At the busiest period in December, RBCH was processing only 85 per cent of patients within four hours, and dhief operating officer Richard Renaut said: “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.”

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

Nationally, the latest NHS figures show that waiting time performance in accident and emergency departments has hit its lowest level since it was introduced 14 years ago. The 85 per cent average is the worst result since the target was introduced in 2004.

NHS England said staff had been faced with working in a “perfect storm” of appalling weather, persistently high hospital admissions due to flu, and a renewed spike in norovirus.

A spokesman added that, despite the challenging conditions, the NHS treated 160,000 more A&E patients within four hours this winter compared with the previous year.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said it was calling on patients to write to MPs and call for action to address the serious challenges facing A&E departments. It said the “unprecedented move” was in response to the figures, which also showed the worst ever performance of 76.9 per cent at major emergency departments, excluding specialist and minor injury units.

College president Dr Taj Hassan said: “Let’s be very clear - the current crisis in our emergency departments and in the wider NHS is not the fault of patients. It is not because staff aren’t working hard enough, not because of the actions of individual trusts, not because of the weather or norovirus, not purely because of influenza, immigration or inefficiencies and not because performance targets are unfeasible.

“The current crisis was wholly predictable and is due to a failure to prioritise the need to increase healthcare funding on an urgent basis.”