A pioneering new care unit has drastically eased pressure on busy Accident and Emergency services since opening at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The new Ambulatory Emergency Care (AEC) department – the first of its kind in the Eastern region – is aimed at reducing the number of patients having to stay in hospital.
Not only does it allow patients to be diagnosed, treated and discharged in the same day, but it frees up overstretched A&E resources to deal with more serious emergencies.
The new system is expected to save about 647 patient bed days and £60,000 a year from not having to admit patients overnight.
Department manager, Sister Karen Strong, said: “We have seen around 1,200 patients so far, 97 per cent of which would have normally been admitted to hospital and, historically, had at least one night stay over.”
Of those patients, 92 per cent avoided an unnecessary hospital admission and were treated and discharged in an average of just three hours and nine minutes. The remaining eight per cent had to be admitted as in-patients for further treatment.
Miss Strong said: “It’s all about giving patients the best experience possible.”
The department, staffed by consultants, doctors and nurses, including specialists, was launched as a pilot project in August last year. The trial was such a success that the hospital trust started work on creating the unit in November, and it officially opened in the first week of January.
A total of 16 of the most commonly-encountered ‘medical emergency’ conditions are currently assessed and treated by the AEC team, including heart, respiratory, diabetic and gastroenterology problems, although there are plans to expand in future.
Lead consultant Dr Harith Altemimi said: “It’s not just about managing common medical emergencies, we can do procedures as well such as lumbar punctures.
“Patients get to see a consultant straight away and it eases pressure on A&E. Everyone is happy.
“We received a letter from one patient who had come here with an eye infection needing urgent attention. From the time he was admitted to the AEC, to the time he was discharged after treatment, was exactly 30 minutes, about which he was extremely pleased.
“Obviously not all patients will have conditions suitable for such rapid treatment, but so far we have had 100 per cent patient satisfaction for the service we give.”
Dr Altemimi said patients may be referred to the new unit via A&E, the hospital’s Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) or direct from their GP.
“The unit gives GPs a single point of contact, with direct access to the duty consultant, if they need to check on a patient’s condition,” he said.
A total of 33 per cent of the unit’s patients are referred by their GP, but the team believes this will rise once doctors become more familiar it.
Diabetic Anthony Leaton, 33, of Downham Market, was referred to the unit by A&E on Tuesday after suffering from a insulin reaction.
He said the system would help medical emergency patients like him, who can’t always get the level of service they need from overstretched GPs.
“It is similar to what they have in Spain where you can see a consultant straight away. I think it’s a great idea.”
The East of England Ambulance Service, which has previously seen its ambulances queue outside the QEH because of delays in handing over patients to the busy A&E, has welcomed the new unit.
A spokesman said: “We are very pleased that the hospital have this option available to patients so that they can receive the care that’s right for them.
“Through our Right Call campaign we encourage patients to seek the most appropriate course of treatment which may be a pharmacy or a GP appointment.
“Obviously we want patients to call 999 in an emergency but we use our expertise to decide what the best treatment is which could be an ambulance or telephone advice from one of our paramedics.”