Some patients sent away from A&E - claim

PATIENTS arriving at Colchester's accident and emergency department with certain injuries have been sent away and told they must travel to Ipswich for treatment instead.

By Sharon Asplin

PATIENTS arriving at Colchester's accident and emergency department with certain injuries have been sent away and told they must travel to Ipswich for treatment instead.

The shocking situation was revealed yesterday in the newly published survey of the department carried out at Colchester General Hospital by the North East Essex Community Health Council.

However, Essex Rivers Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs it, insisted last night this was not normal procedure and that it was "horrified and baffled" by the claims.

The survey also highlights that at weekends, cover for out of hours ear, nose and throat (ENT) problems alternates between Colchester and Ipswich – so when based at Ipswich, patients from Colchester have to travel there, and vice versa.

While patients were generally happy with the clinical care received, there were a number of other areas picked out for improvement, the most contentious of which was the urgent need for more parking spaces at the hospital.

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The report outlines the results of a customer satisfaction survey carried out by the CHC members over a continuous 36-hour period at the end of last November. Critically ill patients were not approached.

Most of the questions related to rating satisfaction across a number of areas – from communication by health professionals, to lengths of waits and facilities within the department and the hospital grounds.

According to Joan Smith, CHC chief officer and lead officer for the project, the "snapshot" survey flagged up areas for further investigation.

She said: "We would hope that this survey will influence service development at Colchester itself and that some of the things that are missing or need improving will be improved on."

Mrs Smith said the CHC wanted to know why people with specific injuries had to travel to Ipswich Hospital for treatment.

"The survey did not find anything absolutely disastrous," she added, "but we were surprised to find people with certain fractures were sent to Ipswich, we did not realise that happened. Travelling to Ipswich is not always easy and many people to not have access to public transport."

According to the CHC, a teenager with a suspected eye/head fracture was told to go by car to Ipswich as treatment for the injury was not available at Colchester.

Another case involved a serious hand fracture and again, after x-ray, the patient was told to travel to Ipswich by car.

But a spokesman for the trust said: "We are concerned by this because all these types of fractures are normally treated at Colchester. We would like the CHC to give us more details, preferably names, so we can look into it. We are especially baffled that someone with a head injury was told to go by car as we are always ultra cautious with this type of injury."

He added that alternating ENT services between Colchester and Ipswich at weekends was a good use of resources and sharing of expertise and added that plans – already in hand before the survey - would shortly be unveiled for improvements to the parking situation at the hospital and the provision of water coolers in the A&E department.

"But we welcome this report by the CHC and will be studying it closely to see whether improvements can be made," he said.

"In recent months, certainly post November 2002, there have been major improvements in the department. We are using nurse practitioners more effectively and we have met targets for the times people wait to be seen."

Just over 100 people took part in the CHC survey – slightly under half the number of patients who passed through the department during that period.

Main findings and patient concerns included:

n Lack of sufficient parking spaces

n Need for drinking water and refreshments

n Need for better seating and lighting

n Need to change waiting time notices more often

n Lack of knowledge about the NHS direct service, particularly among older people

n Pleased with the speed of treatment but too long a wait between seeing the nurse and the doctor referred to

n Staff very helpful

n Volume of patients was impressive and paramedics and ambulance staff first class

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