The number of patients waiting 12 hours or more in A&E has increased more than 20-fold in just four years.
According to new figures from the NHS, 100 patients waited 12 hours or more in A&E at Watford’s A&E department in 2011-12.
But fast forward to 2015-16 2,181 people spent half a day or more waiting to be admitted.
Patient campaigners said they were “shocked but not surprised” by the figures – and said it illustrated why a new A&E is needed for West Hertfordshire.
But hospital bosses stressed that patients would always be seen “in order of clinical urgency so that those with life-threatening or serious illness or injuries will always be seen first.”
They also reminded patients who do not need urgent care not to attend A&E – an issue also raised on page 7 of this week’s Gazette.
The most likely people to be left with the extremely long waits were those aged 80-89 – as they made up a quarter (529) of those waiting 12 hours or more.
Youngsters aged 0-9 were least likely to face a long wait, as eight of them faced a wait of 12 hours-plus.
Sadly the surge in long waits in A&E departments was replicated across the country.
In hospitals throughout England 48,128 people faced waits of 12-plus hours in 201-12, By 2016 that had reached 185,017 people, including 4,080 children aged nine or younger, and 55,969 OAPs aged 80-plus.
Betty Harris, of the Dacorum Hospital Action Group, said: “This is exactly why we need a new A&E. It’s not just about the need for infrastructure or travel times – Watford Hospital’s A&E cannot cope.
“We’re told that the NHS can’t find the staff for a new A&E, but they can find the money for the managers. We’re told they can’t afford money for a new hospital, but they have money for other things.
“These figures are failing the public completely.”
Sally Tucker, chief operating officer at West Herts Hospitals, said: “The number of patients waiting to be seen for 12 hours or longer has risen in line with the increase in demand for accident and emergency services across the whole country since 2011/12.
“Some people who come to A&E do not need emergency treatment but still choose to come to hospital instead of waiting for a GP appointment. Hospital staff work very hard to ensure that patients are seen within four hours, but as A&E departments get busier, this becomes more difficult to achieve.
“Patients are always seen in order of clinical urgency so that those with life-threatening or serious illness or injuries will always be seen first. Even during times of very high demand, we maintain a robust triage system which means that we continue to treat patients in priority order based on their clinical need. As well as the changing pattern of behaviour of patients, increases in our aging population and increases in the population locally are reflected in these figures.”
She added: “Readers should be assured that patients needing emergency treatment for serious illness or injury will always be treated as a priority.
“Patients who present with conditions that could be treated by a GP or whose needs are not assessed as urgent or who could seek advice from a pharmacist may have to wait longer.”