Hospital bosses in Dorchester have made an urgent plea for patients to think before attending the accident and emergency department amid huge pressures.

It comes after new figures revealed hundreds of patients at Dorset County Hospital NHS Trust spent four hours or longer in A&E during October.

The latest NHS England statistics show 90 per cent of patients arriving at A&E were treated, admitted or discharged within four hours – meaning 860 people spent longer in the emergency department.

However, DCH has fared better than many other hospital trusts – its figures came in at just below the 95 per cent target introduced in 2004.

Although it is stressed that only those with life-threatening conditions and illnesses should be attending A&E.

Across England, only 84% of patients were seen within four hours in A&E departments last month, a record low.

The figure for the Royal Bournemouth Hospital was just 83 per cent.

Health secretary Matt Hancock's suggestion that the NHS was in many ways performing better than ever was branded "staggeringly out of touch" by his Labour counterpart.

Mr Hancock pointed to the rising number of patients needing treatment and said the number of operations carried out had actually risen by 7% over the last 12 months.

He told BBC Radio 4: "In many ways, the NHS is performing better than it ever has. The challenge is that demand is increasing as well.

"The performance of the system is incredible. The people who are working in the NHS are doing a remarkable job.

"We are putting record amounts of funding in over the next four years."

But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "This is staggeringly out of touch.

"He insists 'in many ways the NHS is performing better than it ever has' on the day it's confirmed the NHS A&E performance is the worst ever."

Richard Murray, chief executive of the King's Fund health think tank, said the statistics "lay bare the stark reality for patients across the country who are struggling to access NHS hospital services."

He added: “These figures underline the scale of the challenge for the next government, which will enter office when the NHS faces one of the worst winters in its history.

“This is a crisis in the making and winter won’t wait; the new government must prioritise addressing chronic NHS staffing shortages and expediting measures to deal with the consultant pensions crisis, which is heaping additional pressures on A&E departments.”

The Echo has reported previously how DCH is facing unprecedented pressures due to the demand on its services, staff shortages and a lack of funding.

Problems will worsen as we head towards winter as hospital services like A&E tend to see an influx of cases over the winter, meaning that staff are stretched and waiting times go up.

A spokesman for Dorset County Hospital: “We urge local people to help us manage the demand on our hospital by using healthcare services appropriately and only attending the Emergency Department for life-threatening conditions and illnesses.

"You can find full details of local alternatives, including urgent treatment centres, minor injury units, pharmacies and GPs, on the Stay Well Dorset website”