Ipswich: Confusing system for patients has increased the pressure on Ipswich Hospital’s A&E department - claim

Confusion for patients over where to turn for medical help has added to pressures on Ipswich Hospita

Confusion for patients over where to turn for medical help has added to pressures on Ipswich Hospital's emergency department

CONFUSION over Suffolk’s “complicated” out-of-hours system has led to Ipswich Hospital’s emergency department being placed under “huge pressure”, it was claimed today.

Councillor Dr Alan Murray

Councillor Dr Alan Murray - Credit: Archant

Figures seen by The Star reveal that the key four-hour wait A&E target was missed in two of the last three months.

Dr Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

Dr Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich - Credit: Archant

There were 6,124 patients seen at the emergency department last month, compared with 5,850 a year earlier. And in February, 5,321 patients were seen compared with 4,947 in 2012.

One health expert warned uncertainty as to who to call when a patient falls ill or is injured was behind the surge in numbers.

Suffolk county councillor and former doctor Alan Murray said the system needed to be simplified. And he said when the current contract with Harmoni, which operates the out-of-hours GP service, comes up for renewal at the end of next year, health bosses should put local GPs in charge of care at weekends and in the evenings.

Currently patients face a raft of choices – including visiting A&E, the minor injuries clinic which moved to the hospital last summer, the out-of-hours GP service, a local pharmacy or dialling 999.

Hospital bosses have raised their concerns at the pressure the emergency department is being put under.

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Speaking at an Ipswich Hospital board meeting last week, Alan Bateman, a non-executive director, admitted: “The emergency department is under huge pressure. There continues to be a huge volume of additional ambulance arrivals.”

Papers discussed at the meeting revealed the hospital narrowly met the national four-hour wait target for A&E in February after failing to reach the expected 95% in December and January.

Dr Murray told The Star: “Most people will turn to A&E because they are so confident of the care they will receive there.

“But in many cases a patient will be treated faster and more appropriately elsewhere. It is a complicated system that needs tweaking.

“With the changes which came in this week – with GPs taking the reins of local health care – it is time to look at a more local out-of-hours system.

“That is not to say every practice has to be open every weekend.

“Look at Felixstowe for example. There are four practices and the new Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) could look at running a pilot there to see how it works.

“I think it would give people more confidence in the service, to know local GPs are on call, and relieve some pressure on A&E.”

Health minister and Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter backed Dr Murray’s calls.

“The single biggest disaster in recent medical history, in my view, was the previous government’s decision to pay GPs more but take away their duty to provide an out of hours service,” he said.

“We have some really great family GPs in Suffolk who want to have more control over their patients’ care out of hours, to reduce hospital admissions.

“I would like to see networks of GP practices providing an on-call rota, much like hospital consultants do. It would give patients more faith and in turn reduce pressure on emergency departments.

“Local CCGs have the power to make their own arrangements regarding out of hours care and I hope the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG will take hold of this issue when the current Harmoni contract comes up for review.”

GPs who are now in charge of the local health service believe the current success of the new NHS 111 number in the county could help relieve pressure on the hospital’s A&E department.

The message is clear: When you face a life-threatening emergency dial 999 but for every other health concern call 111.

The team at the other end of the phone will then be able to talk through your problem and point you in the direction of the best health service for you.

Dr Imran Quershi, a Ravenswood GP and member of the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG said the NHS 111 service has been performing well since its launch in February – despite the national picture.

He said it is hoped it will act to relieve some of the pressure on A&E departments.

“NHS 111 does move towards trying to reduce some of the confusion for patients,” he told The Star.

“It is one part of the jigsaw puzzle which we need to get right.

“One of the priorities for us is to get integrated care right – delivering the right care, at the right time by the right person.”

Dr Quershi added that an out of hours service more focused on local GPs is “an interesting idea” which has been discussed by the CCG.

But he said any significant change would require careful consideration and debate and pointed out the Harmoni contract does specify a need for local GPs to play their part.