THE chief executive of Southend Hospital says waiting times have improved.

Figures released in December showed a sharp rise in complaints, particularly in Accident and Emergency, from patients angry at delays while waiting for treatment.

However, chief executive Jacqueline Totterdell says the department has seen a vast improvement in the percentage of patients who are seen within four hours.

She said: “Our A&E staff are under enormous pressure at the moment and I think they are coping extremely well.

“We need to support them when the going gets really tough because they’re doing a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances.

“They have to treat what comes through the door with no way of knowing whether there’s one ambulance or 20.

“They’re trying their best with a big influx of patients over which they have no control.”

In December there was a 72 per cent increase in complaints compared to the same month in 2012.

The emergency department failed to meet its target of 95 per cent of patients being seen within four hours, with only 85.9 per cent seen in the target time during December.

However, last week the department saw 96.2 per cent of patients, a vast improvement on recent figures.

Mrs Totterdell says the hospital plans to work with healthcare colleagues in the community to help prevent people with long term illnesses becoming so unwell they require hospital treatment – a step she hopes will improve Accident and Emergency waiting times.

She said: “Emergency care is not just about the hospital; it’s about what is happening in the health economy to help patients with long term conditions who are becoming sick.

“We often have people coming into Accident and Emergency who have had a problem for two or three weeks, but we’re there to address urgent problems and that’s what makes life difficult.

“We want to work with our colleagues in the community and general practice to look at ways we can spot patients with long term conditions becoming so ill that they need to come to hospital.”

As well as this, Mrs Totterdell says there are natural factors which can lead to an increase in waiting times.

She added: “We have an ageing population here in Southend, and we also have sicker patients at this time of year, which contributes to waiting times.”