A HEALTH boss has defended the decision to fine hospitals £400,000 a month for keeping A&E patients waiting too long.

Eamonn Kelly, chief executive of NHS Worcestershire, said the trust was right to withhold the cash from hospitals because county A&E patients were enduring the longest waits in the region.

NHS Worcestershire will withhold the £400,000 from the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust for November – the equivalent of two per cent of the trust’s monthly income.

The trust has the longest waiting times for patients in the West Midlands.

Only 93.1 per cent of patients so far this financial year have been seen, treated, discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours of attending A&E at either Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester or the Alexandra in Redditch.

The national target is for 95 per cent of patients to be seen within the four hours.

The trust’s performance is the worst of 16 acute hospital trusts in the region.

The issue was discussed at a board meeting of NHS Worcestershire at Evesham Hospital yesterday.

Mr Kelly said NHS Worcestershire had given financial support to the acute hospitals trust far in excess of the money paymasters had withheld.

He said leaders at NHS Worcestershire were working closely with leaders at the acute trust to bring A&E performance back on track.

He said: “There’s a point at which we and no one else has to say ‘This performance is not acceptable’.

“We’re trying to make sure that money no longer needs to be withheld.

“I know there have been some critical comments about what we have done but I can assure the people of Worcestershire we will continue to work to make sure they have the best possible patient experience and the safest experience at A&E.”

A&E performance did rise again to 95 per cent for November but has since fallen again over the last two days, Mr Kelly said.

He also said the reopening of Juniper ward would help the trust cope with any surge in patient numbers.

He said he hoped the trust would hit the 95 per cent target during November.

In a measure of how serious the issue has become, Dr Mark Goldman, interim chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, met leaders at NHS Worcestershire in the private session of their board meeting.

Simon Hairsnape, managing director of NHS Worcestershire, said: “We know we have been struggling with the A&E target this financial year – in fact all calendar year.

“Quite frankly we’re not doing the job we should do as a health and care economy.”

NHS Worcestershire will spend £1.6 million on providing care outside hospital to ease pressure on beds during the winter, which is traditionally the busiest time for acute hospitals.