BARNSLEY Hospital’s busy emergency department is facing a crisis as growing numbers of patients sit through hours-long waits to be treated.

Staff on the ward are urging people to stay away unless they have ‘genuine emergencies’ - with NHS figures showing while numbers of people through the doors rose sharply last month, more than a third were left waiting for longer than the four-hour standard.

Of 9,021 people seen in March, 3,176 - 35.2 per cent - spent more than four hours from arrival to admission, transfer or discharge.

A year earlier, 1,420 of 8,155 - 17.3 per cent - waited for four hours.

Lockdown brought fewer people to the hospital’s emergency department, but - as seen in snowballing numbers of residents contacting their GPs for appointments - as restrictions eased, services have come under more pressure.

The Chronicle understands hesitation over ailments through periods of lockdown and lengthy waits for GP appointments have been to blame for last year’s influx of patients - while bosses have put the current spike down to people presenting with conditions that could be managed better elsewhere.

A spokesperson for Barnsley Hospital said: “We’re really happy to see people when they’re very unwell, that’s what we are here for.

“However, we get a lot of people coming to Barnsley Hospital because they don’t think they have a choice of going somewhere else.

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“Whilst some of our cases are genuine emergencies and we would want these to continue to come, some could be seen or treated more appropriately elsewhere.

“It’s also important to access the right healthcare early - don’t wait until it becomes an emergency.

“Calling NHS 111 can help signpost people to the right care and where they need to be.”

In January, 1,789 of 7,919 patients had to wait for more than four hours, while the following month the figure was 2,418 of 7,801.

Overworked staff on Barnsley Hospital’s emergency department first implored people to stay away unless absolutely necessary late last year - as more than ten times as many people faced long waits for treatment than at the pandemic’s start.

Figures show 9,323 people went through the doors at Barnsley A and E across September, 2,781 of which waited longer than four hours.

That number is almost double what it was a year prior, when 1,413 of 7,605 were left waiting for four hours.

It also dwarves records from April and May, 2020 around coronavirus’ first ‘peak’ when 203 of 4,301 and 335 of 5,830 patients, respectively, had to wait for longer than the four hours that NHS bosses use as a performance benchmark.

As restrictions began to be lifted last June, the highest number of people in more than a year went through the doors, at 9,920, of which 3,075 waited for more than four hours.

The hospital declared a rare OPEL (operational pressures escalation level) four after 300 patients attended in one day, leaving staff ‘unable to deliver comprehensive care’.

Bosses are encouraging people to consider other options, including the Pharmacyfirst scheme - a push for those with minor conditions to visit their pharmacist for advice and treatment as a first port of call.

Hospital visitors have been asked to remember that mask-wearing, hand hygiene and social distancing continue in healthcare settings.