As Hinchingbrooke Hospital’s A&E department struggles to cope with rising levels of demand it has been revealed that some patients are attending with minor ailments that have included sore throats, hiccups, splinters and even paper cuts.

Staff shortages and a sharp rise in attendances, especially during the winter months, means the department is consistently failing to meet national waiting time targets, but it has become clear that some people may not understand the concept of emergency treatment.

The Hunts Post has learned that during the last 12 months, staff have treated a woman who was unable to remove a broken false finger nail, a man who cut himself shaving (the wound was recorded as “not visible to the naked eye”) and people who had run out of medication, couldn't sleep or needed contraception.

The hospital's medical director, Dr Catherine Hubbard, has issued the following advice: “An emergency department deals with genuine emergencies, including loss of consciousness; acute confused state and fits that are not stopping; persistent, severe chest pain; breathing difficulties; severe bleeding that cannot be stopped; severe allergic reactions; severe burns or scalds; and broken bones.

“Priority is always given to people with the most urgent health needs, which means anyone else may have to wait longer to be seen by a nurse or doctor. Therefore, we would encourage people with less urgent conditions to consider other options – such as visiting a pharmacist or GP, calling NHS 111, or using NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk) to find advice about treating yourself.”

A trust board meeting at the hospital on March 31 heard that in the month of February the number of people who attended A&E was 3,641, and of these, 962 were admitted to hospital and 78 left without being seen. The percentage who were seen within the four-hour waiting target time was 86.1 per cent, against a national target of 95 per cent, which equates to 506 people staying longer than four hours. The average wait for patients, who were not admitted to hospital, was two hours and 48 minutes and for those who were later admitted it was four hours and 21 minutes. Attendances were up by 16.6 per cent in February compared to the same month the previous year.

The figure for unplanned re-admittance within seven days was 2.05 per cent compared to the national target of five per cent.

A report put before the board explained: “Significant pressure on Peterborough [hospital] required us to take ambulance diverts on two occasions. This resulted in increased ambulance presentations in short periods, and due to our limited physical capacity and related medical and nursing staffing we were unable to maintain the necessary flow in the emergency department.”

The report went on to say that significant ongoing work was required to managed the situation and an action plan would be put together by the end of May.