HEALTH bosses have hailed a ‘huge step forward’ for East Lancashire’s emergency ward after it hit a key target for the first time in several months.

Waiting times at Royal Blackburn Hospital’s much-criticised A&E ward have improved dramatically in the last fortnight, with more than 95 per cent of patients now being seen within four-hours.

The target has not been met since last summer, with performance dipping to about 80 per cent in early January.

But in the week ending February 2, just 96 of 1,984 patients waited longer than four hours, meaning the trust met the standard in 95.2 per cent of cases.

Inspectors highlighted several failings in the emergency department last year, but bosses said they have worked hard to increase staffing levels and address flaws in the system.

Interim chief exective Jim Birrell, who joined the trust last month, said: “It’s been a huge step forward to hit this target. It’s due to measures that have been put in place for weeks and months and it’s very encouraging given where we were two or three weeks ago.

“People didn’t think this could be done but they’re more open minded now.”

Nine nurses have been brought in to boost staffing levels, while an awareness campaign has urged patients not to attend the hospital inappropriately.

A ‘perfect week’ initiative, which saw the wards flooded with senior doctors and social workers, has helped staff free up hospital beds by discharging patients to more appropriate care, while frequent attenders have been targeted by GPs and social workers to try and address their underlying problems, such as alcohol abuse.

Debbie Nixon, chief operating officer at Blackburn with Darwen Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We’ve had some of the most rigourous plans that I’ve ever seen in my experience in the NHS. Many parts of the system have performed extremely well and we’ve reduced demand over and above the national average.”