ABOUT 200 patients each week have been left waiting longer than the nationally-capped four hours for care at the Great Western Hospital’s accident and emergency department since the beginning of January – a third more than in December.

Last week, 82.2 per cent of patients were treated within four hours, falling short of the NHS’s required target of 95 per cent.

This represented a nearly 10 per cent drop from the 91.2 per cent seen in good time at the start of December.

It meant 256 people were forced to wait longer than four hours in various stages of discomfort or illness. A total of 93 people spent between four and 12 hours on trolleys.

In the week ending January 26, 88.2 per cent of people attending A&E were treated within four hours, while 166 waited longer.

This marked a further decline from the 89 per cent recorded in the previous seven days, but a slight rise on the week ending January 5, when 81.8 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the required time period.

In the first week of December 91.2 per cent of patients were seen in time, and 118 left to wait for treatment. The figure plummeted to 84 per cent by the end of the month.

Health chiefs at the Great Western Hospital said, as well as an increase in chronic diseases and a steadily growing and ageing population placing heavy pressures on the department, people are also wrongly assuming A&E should be their first port of call even when suffering from a common cold or minor ache or pain, prolonging waiting times.

Too often they believed they would be seen quicker at the emergency department.

This comes despite a well publicised campaign launched in 2011, urging patients to ‘Choose Well’. The campaign aimed to ensure people were informed of all their options when in need of medical assistance, to prevent further clogging up of the A&E department.

“The first thing people should think about is self care and make sure they have paracetamol at home and common cold remedies,” said emergency department consultant Dr Stephen Haig.

“They should also see their pharmacists who are able to give advice on things like sore throats and pains. They can go to their GP surgery, the out-of-hours GP, or the walk-in centre. If it is more serious they can attend the A&E.

“We are certainly feeling a lot of pressure and we have seen a steady five per cent increase of A&E attendance year on year.

“We have got an ageing population and the population of Swindon itself is growing. Inevitably we are going to have more people with medical emergencies. And if a small number of people chose better it would ease pressure.”

He added: “The figures are frustrating for us because we feel we are not performing as well as we can. We want to be able to see people as soon as possible and it’s a concern.”

Phoenix surgery GP Dr Peter Swinyard explained that NHS waiting times targets should be taken with ‘a pinch of salt’ as they in no way reflected the quality of care received by patients at the emergency department.

“Sometimes it is appropriate for people to wait a bit longer before being rushed out of the door or being admitted inappropriately. The targets are artificial and we should look at how how patients are being treated. The A&E department does a cracking job.”