Ipswich: Fresh concerns about confusion in health service as eight people a day ‘misuse’ A&E department at Ipswich Hospital
09:14 22 April 2014
Hundreds of patients are still turning up at Ipswich Hospital’s accident and emergency department every month, even though their ailments could be treated by a GP or the 111 service, a new report has revealed.
The figures, in a report to be discussed by health chiefs this week, show more than 1,200 patients went to A&E in Ipswich “inappropriately” between November and March – an average of eight a day. The news is likely to fuel concerns that emergency departments are put under too much unnecessary pressure by patients confused over where they should go.
For the five-month period, the county’s 111 and out-of-hours care provider Harmoni based a GP at Ipswich Hospital’s A&E unit. During this time, they saw 1,217 patients whose complaints could have been effectively dealt with elsewhere.
Last night, Ipswich Hospital spoke of the challenges of “delivering health care to people who need it”, and praised the work to tackle the issue. Spokeswoman Jan Ingle said: “We work in close partnership with GPs who work in primary care and in the out-of-hours service delivered by Harmoni. We have been delighted by this close partnership working over the past months.
“It has helped us immensely in becoming one of the top 10 hospitals in the country for treating people within four hours.
“It is challenging to deliver health care to people who need it. We have noticed growing demand, with figures showing a significant increase in the number of people attending A&E this year. It is through our partnership work that we are trying to understand why this happens.”
The A&E figures are contained in a report reviewing the success of out-of-hours GP and NHS 111 services in Suffolk, which will be discussed by the county’s health scrutiny committee on Wednesday.
The county’s 111 service was set up in February 2013 to provide patients with prompt medical help for urgent complaints that do not require a 999 emergency response.
The report suggests the misuse of A&E would have been worse if it was not for the 111 hotline.
A survey, carried out by Harmoni in January, asked more than 60 callers if they would have contacted or visited another service about their health problem had it not been available.
Of those to respond, 41% said they would have either dialled 999 or visited A&E.
Calls to 111 are answered by trained advisers, supported by nurses, who advises patients of the appropriate service or outcome, which may include further clinical advice, or referral to an out of hours service doctor or advanced nurse practitioner – but most calls result in a GP appointment.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, the health scrutiny committee will consider arrangements for recommissioning of the out-of-hours GP and NHS 111 services from April 2015.
Health scrutiny committee chairman Tony Goldson said: “We must build public confidence in the 111 service.
“With the service due to be re-tendered, I have asked Harmoni to report to the committee and tell us where they are. We have to be sure that the service we are getting is the best it can possibly be.
“I want Harmoni to paint a picture of where they see the service when it comes to being re-tendered. If the intention is to make the service better, we need to ask how Harmoni can achieve that.
“Harmoni has been working hard and I now want commissioners to outline their vision for the future.”