“Unsafe, undignified and inhuman” were the words used by one of the national directors of the NHS to describe the care that patients receive when they attend A&E departments. Tim Kelsey highlighted the current failure for someone’s medical history to be easily accessible on arrival to hospital, increasing the number of hours patients and their families need to wait. Speaking at an NHS Confederation convention, he described one case that had been brought to his attention where the mother of a girl with learning difficulties, who regularly attended A&E, had to spend two hours on each admission helping staff to complete a 23 page document. If this wasn’t enough, three hours would usually pass before staff had the time to hoist her daughter from her wheelchair into bed, resulting in an unacceptable five hour wait before treatment was received.
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Modernising patient records
Mr Kelsey made the point that despite living in an age where so many services are available online, it is hard to believe that the NHS has not yet embraced this same concept with the sharing of patient records between care providers. This failure and the lack of knowledge regarding a patient’s current and past health on entry to A&E departments that is brought with it was described by him as “unsafe”. He advised that the NHS required “a fundamental transformation” in relation to its use of technology to enable patient care to improve. While plans have been launched by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to place patient records in an electronic format so that they can be fully shared between GPs, hospitals, social services and care homes, the NHS is not expected to be completely “paperless” till 2018.
Taking the pressure off A&E
However, it is not just the lack of communication regarding patient records causing long wait times in A&E; budget cuts within primary care have meant that those people with complex and often multiple chronic conditions are unable to receive the care they need in the community and as such need admission to hospital through A&E. This was an issue raised by the shadow Health Minister, Jamie Reed, and was in response to Jeremy Hunt’s comments relating to a strategy needed by the NHS to help those “heaviest users of the NHS”, those with long-term conditions, which in turn would help hospital emergency departments. NHS officials have until April 2014 to devise and implement a plan of action that would raise the status of community health services, improve linking between services for health and social care and ensure a patient’s GP would take responsibility for someone’s care on discharge from hospital.
By Amy Millband