Harlow’s Princess Alexandra Hospital, which hosts the nearest A&E for Stansted residents, has declared an “internal critical incident” as it is facing “extremely challenging” demand, reported Bishop’s Stortford Independent this week.

The hospital was given a “requires improvement” overall assessment by the Care Quality Commission last July due to a lack of suitably qualified staff. The government watchdog said: “The trust did not have enough nursing staff with the right qualifications, skills, training and experience to keep patients safe from avoidable harm and to provide the right care and treatment.”

In response to a Freedom of Information request I made in November, the Princess Alexandra Health Trust (PAHT) stated that it had 11.3% unfilled vacancies. This compares with the 8% rate nationally – a level that health professionals find alarming and unsustainable.

According to the latest data, half of advertised vacancies at PAHT were for nursing and midwifery – a profession that has seen significant loss of personnel due to the public sector pay freeze, the cut in nurse bursaries and uncertainty over the status of EU nationals who comprise 6.5% of its workforce.

Staffing problems are having an extremely negative effect on A&E waiting times. In December, the hospital reported that just 68.2% of attendances were seen within four hours, compared to the England average of 79.8% and the national target of 95%. In the normally quiet July-September quarter, the hospital reported that just 76.6% of attendances were seen within four hours, compared to the 86% national average. This isn’t a problem just confined to the winter months. Even in the summer months, PAHT isn’t able to achieve the A&E waiting times seen in England in the busy winter months.

The NHS is in a precarious position due to funding problems, as well as bearing the brunt of cuts in social care and the chronic lack of GPs. Princess Alexandra is one of the worst hit hospitals

In October, Harlow was promised a new hospital site to replace the cramped, ageing 1960s hospital building in the centre of town. However, this is scheduled to open in 2025 at the earliest and in the mean time pressures are mounting at our local A&E. A new hospital also doesn’t address the key issue of high unfilled staff vacancy rates.

I have appealed to our local MP Kemi Badenoch to ask what measures will be put in place in the interim so that Princess Alexandra has the resources and staffing to overcome these pressures. I have also asked her to address the social care crisis that is contributing to soaring demand at the A&E.