Suffolk: Patient spent 16 hours in A&E as number of people flocking to emergency unit increases

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds

West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: PA

PATIENTS at West Suffolk Hospital have spent up to 16 hours in A&E before being discharged or moved to another department, according to new figures.

Hospital bosses yesterday said the emergency unit, which is facing ever increasing numbers of patients, has developed a detailed action plan to cut waiting times and improve patient experience - including the building of a six-bed clinical decision unit.

According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, 16 people spent in excess of 12 hours at West Suffolk’s A&E before being sent home or moved last year. The longest spell in the unit in Bury St Edmunds was 16 hours and 18 minutes.

No patients waited for more than 12 hours in 2011/12.

Experts have suggested that along with an increase in patient numbers, a surge in cases involving elderly people with more complex needs, could be behind longer stays in A&E.

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Speaking yesterday, Alan Murray, Suffolk County Council cabinet member elect for Health and Adult Care, said: “It’s a national problem that we are seeing in practically every A&E at the moment and the Government have become increasingly aware of it in the last week or two.”

Dr Murray said one of the problems is that the age profile of the people going to A&E is increasing.

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He added: “People are tipping up in A&E in anything up to 10% higher numbers than they were three or four years ago. The proportion of the elderly with their complex needs has increased. Consequently, to give them proper efficient diagnosis and treatment is taking longer, because they are more complicated patients.”

Dr Murray said: “I don’t use that as an excuse that’s the reality of what’s going on. It’s not that A&E is failing as such, but that A&E is taking on a higher degree of complex patients.

“You could say that many of these patients should be managed and treated before they reach hospital and I would tend to agree with that. What is failing is our ability to spot these patients in the GP setting and the out of hours setting before they need A&E care,”

According to the figures released by the hospital there are about six consultant posts in the A&E unit.

Overnight there is one consultant on site and another on call. During weekends one consultant is rostered on duty for six hours, but the hospital said they are usually onsite for at least 12 hours each day - if not longer. Another consultant is also on call.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Hospital said they have been looking at how to reduce waiting time while improving patient experience.

He said: “As with other hospitals across the UK, A&E attendances at West Suffolk have increased significantly over recent years. Last year, for example, we saw around 3,600 more patients than in 2011/12, and the trend has continued into 2013/14, with 288 more people coming to A&E in April than the previous year and 94 more emergency admissions.

“As this is a national issue, all trusts are being asked to look at how they manage emergency care with the overall aim of reducing A&E waiting times while also improving patient experience. With the help of national experts, we have developed a detailed action plan for West Suffolk. This includes changing the way consultants work, extending our existing emergency assessment areas and investing in a new six-bedded clinical decision unit for patients who do not need to be admitted but whose treatment may take a few hours.

He added: “We will continue to work closely with GPs, community services, the ambulance trust, the out of hours service and the clinical commissioning group to deliver this action plan, and expect work on the clinical decision unit to be complete by December.”

With all of the patients a “decision to admit” was made within the 12 hour guidelines put in place by the Department of Health.

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