SOUTHEND Hospital has been ordered to take a series of urgent steps after a health watchdog branded its A&E department among the worst in the country.

Health regulator Monitor has ordered the hospital to implement a “credible plan” to improve A&E services, develop a plan to improve the speed with which non-emergency patients receive treatment, boost its clinical and management teams and review the effectiveness of its board to ensure it is fit for purpose.

Monitor is taking action because the hospital has regularly failed to meet the four-hour waiting time target to deal with A&E patients between December 2013 and March this year.

The regulator is also concerned that too many patients are waiting more than 18 weeks for non-emergency operations.

Adam Cayley, regional director at Monitor, said: “This trust has had one of the worst performing A&E departments in the country.

“It has also failed to see other patients who have been referred for treatment quickly enough.

“It is unacceptable that patients have to wait.

“Monitor will not hesitate to step in and make changes to the leadership if the trust does not improve its services for its patients.”

The intervention by Monitor is a blow to the hospital as it recently developed an 11-point action plan to solve its A&E crisis and managed to meet the Government target to treat 95 per cent of emergency patients within four hours throughout May and so far in June.

The Echo understands the Monitor’s new demands were sparked by the hospital’s failure to achieve a commitment to turn performance around by the end of last year(2013).

It is also concerned about the stability of its executive team, which has had a very high turnover of members in the last two years.

The body believes the failure to meet waiting targets for emergency treatment and routine operation could point to wider problems at the hospital.

Bosses at Southend Hospital say they have been working with Monitor to address concerns.

Alan Tobias, Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust chairman, said the trust had made a commitment to improve.

He said: “Whilst our recent CQC inspection had no concern around the quality of care we provide our patients, we recognise that not meeting key performance targets means some of our patients are waiting longer that we would like and we have shown we are dedicated to changing that.

“After inconsistent achievement of the A&E target, there is now some good news on our performance in this area. We are reducing waiting and delays, seeing patients in more appropriate settings, and enabling people to go home more promptly as soon as they are fit enough to leave hospital. We want to maintain this progress and will work with Monitor to assure them of this.”

Mr Tobias said retirements and interim appoints to key executive positions had affected the stability of the hospital board. However, he added permanent roles for directors had been filled and recruitment would continue.

Mr Tobias said: “We believe we are now in a much stronger position to tackle these issues and will be working hard to achieve all the undertakings and requirements we have set out with our regulator.

“I am under no illusion and want to assure our local community we must and will get this right because it is in the best interests of our patients, which is what drives the board and the trust.”