TfL: Elizabeth line blamed for Royal London Hospital drop in A&E performance

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An east London hospital has blamed the opening of Transport for London's (TfL) Elizabeth line for increased pressures on its emergency services and a drop in performance. The Royal London Hospital says a growing number of patients are coming from neighbouring boroughs.

During a meeting of Tower Hamlets Council’s health and adults scrutiny sub-committee last Tuesday (October 16), Tom Cornwell, the divisional director of operations at the Royal London Hospital, said the opening of the Elizabeth line station in Whitechapel next to the hospital site, was a “massive factor”.

Mr Cornwell said: “During the second phase of the Elizabeth line opening, there was quite a significant increase around the Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest area. We’ve seen a big growth in terms of our attendances… who potentially would have been going to other local hospitals such as Whipps Cross or Homerton [University Hospital].”

According to council documents, the hospital in Whitechapel has seen its overall four-hour performance in accident and emergency (A&E) drop from 75% in April 2019 to 58% in August 2023.

Its urgent treatment centres (UTC), which provide medical help for patients in non-life threatening circumstances, had an overall four-hour performance in April 2019 of 98%. By August 2023, this had dropped to 77%.

The number of people attending a UTC at the hospital increased by 80% when compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to Tower Hamlets Council documents.

Labour councillor Amina Ali asked whether the Royal London is in contact with nearby East London hospitals about the “sudden surge” in patients using its emergency services.

Cllr Ali said: “…obviously it seems that the pressure of these increased patients from different boroughs is causing more pressure on existing services that we have already here in Tower Hamlets for our residents.”

Kathriona Davison, chief operating officer at Royal London, said Homerton, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals have not seen a reduction in their activity but that “it just happens to come to us as a result of the Elizabeth line and that’s the indication from the data that we have at the moment”.

Ms Davison said: “It’s very difficult to stop people coming to us by the Elizabeth line and I think it’s just an indictment of how people probably perceive the UTC that we have and the A&E department that we provide. But we are working on it and it’s part of the plans on how we address some of those increased demands.”

A spokesperson for Barts Health NHS Trust said: “Like many NHS hospitals, The Royal London is experiencing a high demand for services with the number of patients treated increasing considerably and bed occupancy almost doubling since 2019.

“We are committed to meeting the national target of 76%, and we are consistently meeting the four-hour target for children.

"To reduce the time our patients are waiting in A&E we are working with our partners in the UTC.”