Both Northumbria and Newcastle NHS trusts hit the A&E waiting-time targets last year, comfortably putting them above the England average.
The target for hospitals with emergency or urgent care departments is to see 95 per cent of patients within four hours of arriving.
Newcastle hit this target for 2018-19, while Northumbria, which runs hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside, had an overall figure of 96% for the year. The English mark was 88 per cent.
And this local performance was also stronger than in previous years, despite around 20,000 extra people attending A&E across the two trusts than in 2017-18.
Both trusts missed the 95% targets in January and February, but managed to surpass 90% and were well above the England figures of under 85%.
Providing an update at Tuesday’s (April 30) meeting of Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing committee on how they tackled the winter just gone, Helen Ray, Northumbria Healthcare’s chief operating officer, said the improvements this year were driven by five main areas.
These were: Good-quality plans based on actions and learning from last year; positive work on hospital flow and reducing bed occupancy; reductions in length of stay and delayed transfer of care; positive work on integration with GPs and community services; and several other areas of good practice.
However, it was accepted that there were some external factors that had an impact too, with levels of influenza A being similar to last year but levels of influenza B being significantly lower. There was also no Beast from the East or particularly severe weather, although plans were in place.
The committee chairman, Coun Jeff Watson, welcomed the positives, but asked what one main aspect needed to be improved upon for next year.
Mrs Ray answered: “Ambulance delays.” She said that if an ambulance is waiting with a patient at the hospital for an hour that has an impact on the next patient who need an ambulance, which is ‘a disservice to the public’.
She added that work is ongoing with the North East Ambulance Service to try to tackle this issue.
Coun Watson added that another issue is the public not knowing exactly where they are supposed to go to access the care they need, be it hospitals, GPs, pharmacies or calling 111.
Siobhan Brown, chief operating officer for NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “I think that’s a very fair point.”
Priority areas of focus during winter 2018-19 were frail elderly people; the increased numbers of children under two coming to A&E; flu vaccination uptake; point of care testing for diarrhoea, vomiting and norovirus; ensuring continuity in the transition to the new 111 service; increased capacity in primary care, ie, more GP appointments; and increased discharge vehicles.
Referring to infection control for the likes of norovirus and flu, Mrs Ray thanked the public, saying: “At times, it’s a bit uncomfortable telling people they can’t visit, but we really appreciate that from the public, because it really makes a difference.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service