Milton Keynes Hospital’s Accident & Emergency department experienced its busiest week EVER in July – and there are concerns the record could be broken again this year.
The surprisingly hot heatwave during the month made the week beginning July 15 the department’s busiest on record in terms of the number of patients admitted.
An average day should see round 200 patients through the doors of A&E, but instead the department had to deal with a daily average of 240 in that week during July.
On the Monday of that week the number reached 259, with another 250 patients seen on two other days.
The Citizen, in partnership with city MPs Iain Stewart and Mark Lancaster, launched a campaign earlier this year to highlight the hospital’s need for a new A&E department and begin the process of lobbying Government for the £24 million needed for it.
The A&E department is on course to deal with more than 70,000 patients this year – around 50,000 more than it was intended to when it was built in the 1980s.
And July’s shock figures – including a record number of 70 patients being taken to A&E by ambulance on the busiest day – has put even more pressure on staff.
And that could be about to get even worse, with Milton Keynes now taking patients from a wider area after children’s A&E services at Bedford Hospital were suspended.
Jacqui Burnett took over as matron of the MK A&E unit in March. She says there was no obvious explanation for the department’s busiest week on record, other than the heat, but insists her staff are up to the challenge – even if things get busier still.
“That week in July was the busiest for A&E and obviously that impacts on the hospital because their admissions will go up,” said Mrs Burnett.
“Some of it was to do with the heat and it was just before the start of the summer holidays as well. You tend to find there are peaks and troughs, but that week was exceptional and we’re not really sure why.
“On an average day we would routinely see about 200 people and on a busy day we would be expected to see nearer the 230 mark. But 259 is a huge number.”
Although the heat caused numbers attending A&E to rise, with the elderly, very young and people with breathing difficulties particularly vulnerable, the record number was even more surprising given that it came in the middle of summer and not at what is traditionally the busiest time, winter.
“Normally during the summer months you would expect to see attendances drop off,” added Mrs Burnett. “So it was completely unexpected.
“But we managed with it. There wasn’t an exorbitant number of people waiting over four hours and the system we have put in place worked.”
The hospital says 96.5 per cent of patients were seen inside the national target of four hours in the busiest week. But the numbers coming through the door will start to rise even further in the coming months as the full effect of paediatric services switching over from Bedford will begin to be felt. The busiest week pre-dated the change at Bedford from August 1 and MK currently sees an average of less than two patients from Bedford each day.
It is not yet known how long Milton Keynes Hospital will be expected to handle the extra numbers – medical director Martin Wetherill recently suggested some services may never return to Bedford – but Mrs Burnett says she isn’t too worried about that.
“We have not seen the full effect yet,” she said. “We have upped our nurse and doctor numbers in preparation, and we are adding clinical space to the paediatric A&E.”