EAST Lancashire’s emergency departments had their busiest winter on record, new figures have revealed.

More than 48,000 people attended the A&E department at Royal Blackburn Teaching Hospital and the area’s urgent care centres over the past three months. Only 80 per cent of that number were dealt with or were discharged within four hours, below the national 95 per cent target.

The statistics from the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust come following figures showed a near five-fold increase in the number of A&E patients waiting longer than the target over the last five years.

The trust said it has employed more staff in an attempt to cope with the demand in the past few years and regularly sends out warnings on social media when it is extremely busy.

In March, it was also revealed new digital signs displaying estimated waiting times could be unveiled in the grounds of Royal Blackburn, Burnley General and the minor injuries unit at Accrington Victoria to try and ease pressures.

Russ McClean, Pennine Lancashire Patients Voice Group chairman, said people need to start using ‘common sense’ when deciding whether to go to A&E.

He said: “I think all hospitals at the moment are struggling to meet the targets but Royal Blackburn seems to be under enormous pressure.

“It is the busiest A&E in the North West at the moment.

“I don’t know if that’s because we have such a wide catchment area, but people need to heed the warnings and think carefully before they attend A&E.

“There are a lot of other options such as walk-in centres and minor injury units.

“We seem to have lost some knowledge in society as well.

“There used to be mums and grandmas that were knowledgeable about treatments for things but that seems to have gone and everyone just thinks A&E now.

“I’m not saying Google your symptoms, but what I would like is some more common sense.”

Between December 2016 and February 2017 in England, 195,764 patients waited at least four hours to be admitted to hospital from A&E, up from 40,791 in 2011/12.

The trust said there had been an increase in the number of patients attending with ‘complex’ medical conditions in East Lancashire.

In January, 17 patients had to wait on trolleys for more than 12 hours as the unit dealt with 14, 342 cases during the month.

Extreme waiting times also reached record levels nationally this winter, as nearly 2,000 patients were forced to wait that long.

Cllr Azhar Ali, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing, said: “I think the staff at Royal Blackburn have been brilliant in the way they have been coping under the pressure.

“But we still have ambulances having to queue and people waiting on trolleys and that is unacceptable.

“But if people think it’s bad now, it’s only going to get more difficult when £500million is cut from the NHS budget by the government.

“I am beginning to believe our health service is getting like a third world country.

“The waiting time target is achievable but only if more money is put into resources.”

The number of days lost to so-called ‘bed-blockers’ also hit record levels in England this winter.

A total of 577,195 days were lost through delayed transfers of care from December to February, compared with 471,780 in winter 2015/16.

Dr Damian Riley, medical director at the trust, said: “The NHS continues to see record numbers of patients in its accident and emergency departments.

“Here in East Lancashire, we have seen a significant rise in the number of patients being admitted through the emergency department with an increase in patients attending with complex medical conditions.

“Our doctors, nurses and support staff are responding magnificently to increased pressures and we have a number of initiatives to improve the flow of patients between our emergency department and inpatient wards.”