RECORD numbers of people are arriving at A&E, waiting lists are growing and cancer patients are not being seen on time as NHS bosses warn that they may not be able to plug a multi-million pound financial gap in the budget by next year.

Urgent care services are under increased pressure across the region with many patients waiting for more than four hours to be treated.

Dr Jeff Schryer, chair of Bury’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), said that last week Fairfield General Hospital was among the best performing in the region despite only 70 per cent of patients being seen within the target time.

He said: “All across Greater Manchester, [A&E staff] are all working very hard under a very difficult situation at the moment.

“There are record numbers of people arriving to emergency departments. There are systems in place helping people to know where to go but we are seeing record numbers such that our ambulance service is under quite a lot of strain.”

Chief officer Geoff Little said that the CCG is doing all it can to support A&E staff. He said that the ongoing review of urgent care aims to make it simple for patients to navigate NHS services so that they receive the appropriate care without needing to go to hospital.

But the governing body was told that the health commissioner may not be able to make the savings target associated with the review anytime soon.

Mr Little said: “Getting to the next financial year with a budget that is balanced will be a challenge in itself.”

Elsewhere in the health service, waiting lists are growing with more than 16,000 Bury residents stuck on these lists across three hospital trusts.

At Salford Royal Hospital, more than a third of patients suspected to have cancer were left waiting beyond the two-week target time in September.

Across Pennine Acute Hospital Trust, which includes Fairfield and North Manchester General Hospital, only 63.6 per cent of cancer patients were treated within 62 days after a GP referral, falling short of the 85 per cent target.

Finance boss Mike Woodhead said that staff are going through each patient’s records to identify the cause of long waits but he said that cutting down these lists would require more money.

He said: “If we want to get waiting lists back down to March 2018 levels, roughly that would be about another £2m.”

However, there was a “plea for realism” among the CCG directors at last week’s governing body meeting.

The health commissioner announced a review of services worth around £7.7m earlier this year. This includes cuts to urgent care, intermediate care and learning disability respite services.

But NHS bosses revealed that there are still savings of more than £8m which are yet to be identified.

Clinical director Howard Hughes told his colleagues that some of these savings target were “never realistic”.

He said: “There’s a lot of effort going into devising new schemes. The timeline doesn’t give us any confidence it will be implemented this year.

“With health, it’s not possible to cut services without them popping up somewhere else. I don’t think it would be realistic to expect the in-year position to change.”

The CCG will need to find £15m of savings in the next financial year, according to current projections – nearly five per cent of its total budget.

Over a five-year period, the health commissioner may have to make around £40m of cuts by 2024/25.

The local authority is expected to have a financial gap of £7m in next year’s budget with up to £29m of savings required over the next five years.

Mr Woodhead explained how the two bodies will work together to manage finances in the future.

He said: “We can work together with the CCG and council to leverage the costs across the two organisations in a way that allows the CCG to access historic funding in a way that it hasn’t been able to do before.”

Peter Bury, a lay member of the CCG’s governing body who chairs the quality and performance committee, called for longer-term funding to allow the health commissioner to plan ahead for the next two to three years.

He said: “Quick fixes do not sort the problem out. We are being promised lots and lots of money for services. We really need public services financed on a longer-term plan, otherwise it’s sticking corks in holes.”