THE county’s cash-strapped health trust is spending £1 million to ease “unprecedented” pressures on urgent care.

This week the board of Wye Valley NHS Trust (WVT) backed the investment into Accident and Emergency work at Hereford County Hospital.

To be spent over the next few years, the money will raise A&E staffing numbers from 78 to 96 as the unit tries to cope with crippling demand.

For patients that means more senior medical staff available for assessment on arrival and quicker turnaround.

Neil Doverty, the Trust’s chief operating officer, said the A&E investment – in the face of major financial challenges – was a “watershed moment” for urgent care in the county.

“Board members felt that this was a decision which had to be made as it would bring benefits to the whole of the hospital. We know that by getting patients flowing through our A&E department smoothly, the whole of the hospital benefits - including fewer cancelled operations,” said Mr Doverty.

“This is also about modernising our A&E services to ensure our workforce can meet the rising tide of demand. The extra staff will mean we can do better for our patients to make sure they get seen quicker while maintaining professional standards of care.”

The Trust board backed the findings of NHS emergency medicine specialists called in by the Trust.

The resulting reports revealed A&E to be “congested” with patients queuing to pass through the department, which meant staff then had to spend time providing care for these patients instead of seeing and treating new patients.

A&E now has an average daily attendance of 153 patients at a unit built for a maximum of 125. Numbers have recently reached as high as 190 in a day.

Analysis shows high numbers of older patients and patients arriving by ambulance. There is some indication that retirements and recruitment difficulties in GP surgeries across the county may be having an impact.

Pressures on urgent care are felt across the hospital, particularly in the number of cancelled operations and lack of available beds.

Despite various initiatives, including virtual wards and a clinical assessment unit (CAU), demand for urgent care continues to rise.

This week's investment follows a further £1 million spent on redesigning emergency and urgent care over the past 12 months with initiatives including the an Emergency Nurse Practitioner (ENP) service within A&E to treat minor “walk in” injuries at an average of 61 a day and the CAU seeing 20 to 30 patients a day since opening in December - a significant of which would have been previously admitted into hospital.

WVT is managing a £3.29 million deficit just three months into the new financial year and is dependent on £13m of support available as “permanent borrowing”.

A £9 million deficit agreed in the Trust’s present financial plan is expected to top more than £12 million by the end of the current financial year.