Major NHS hospitals plans for ‘referral ONLY’ A&E appointments to ease extreme pressure

TWO major NHS hospitals are planning to make A&E appointments “referral only” in an attempt to ease extreme pressure on services.

Walk-in patients at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals will have to visit an urgent treatment centre before being able to access emergency care.

A major NHS hospital trust has put forward proposals for ‘referral ONLY’ A&E appointments to ease extreme pressure on services

Nick Hulme, chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust which runs the hospitals, unveiled the plans to HSJ.

He said the proposals are part of a major reorganisation – backed by £35million of capital funding – that is hoped will cut A&E activity by 50 per cent.

Mr Hulme said: “Instead of [walk-in patients arriving at the] ED… patients will arrive in the urgent care centre and only be referred into ED [if necessary].”

Under the trust’s plans, a brand new urgent treatment centre will be built at Colchester hospital.

Big plans

The proposals are in line with national policy set out in the NHS long-term plan – although at the ambitious end of the scale.

Mr Hulme added: “A lot of [hospitals have developed] models [which stream patients to] medical assessment units, emergency assessment units [and] GPs [etc]…

“What we are doing is expanding that further, with good triage through an urgent treatment centre, ED becoming referral only at the back of that.

“We can probably reduce pure ED activity down to about 50 per cent, if not lower, by taking minor injuries and illnesses to a UTC run by ourselves and the local GP confederation.”

We can probably reduce pure emergency department activity down to about 50 per cent, if not lower

Nick HulmChief exec of East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust

The trust formed after Ipswich and Colchester hospitals merged in July 2018.

It’s now the largest acute provider by volume in the East of England – with more than 201,000 emergency attendances in 2018-19.

Mr Hulme said demand on emergency services is rising and a shortage of consultants makes the move “pragmatic”.

It comes after recent NHS data has shown record highs of A&E attendances, alongside the worst-ever waiting times for treatment referrals.

A total of 2,266,913 people attended emergency units in England in July this year – the highest figure for a July since current records began in August 2010.

Of the attendants, 86 per cent were seen within four hours, which is an increase from the same period last year.

It means that the target for 95 per cent of patients being seen within four hours as been missed in as many consecutive years.

There were also 554,069 emergency admissions in July, an increase of 4.6 per cent since July 2018.

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