WAITING times at Warrington Hospital’s A&E department are already worse than last year ahead of the onset of winter pressures, according to new figures.

Between April and September this year, 39,841 patients attended the emergency department – with 81 per cent of these people admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours.

In the same period in 2017, 88 per cent of patients were seen in four hours while the government’s target for hospital trusts is 95 per cent.

Meanwhile, other statistics suggest that the hospital is also understaffed.

Figures for March, the most recent period for which this data is available, showed that Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had staff vacancies equivalent to 49 full-time jobs.

But this number was actually fewer than in April 2017, when there were 55 roles that needed to be filled.

It comes as a report from NHS Providers, the body that represents trusts, has warned that this winter will be even more difficult than the last for the health service.

Factors including A&E waiting times and staff shortages could lead to problems in the months ahead.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, said: “Trusts and their staff put in extraordinary efforts last year to meet record demand – demand which continues to grow every winter.

“Despite measures to prioritise emergency care, it was clear that in many places the quality of care for patients feels short of what the public rightly expects.

“As attention turns to what this winter will bring, there are many improvements which have been put in place to welcome.

“But there are clear warning signs – performance is in a worse position going into this winter than last.

“Staff shortages are growing, putting additional strain on a workforce already overstretched during an exceptionally busy summer.”

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing has warned that this winter could ‘bring the NHS to a standstill’.

Acting chief executive and general secretary Donna Kinnair said: “Staff are doing all they can, but demand is outstripping supply and winter 2018 could be the one that brings services to a standstill.

“The signs in the NHS Providers report are ominous – increasing demand, worsening A&E performance and a yawning chasm in nurse numbers.

“Despite our warnings, the government has still not acted to fill the 41,000 nurse vacancies in England alone.

“This means we go into winter with understaffed services, gaps in hospital rotas and a workforce that is more under pressure than ever.

“Staff across England have given almost all they can – nurses tell us they cannot keep this up indefinitely.”

Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has not responded to a request for comment.