Ambulance checks to cut A&E patients
AMBULANCE crews are to be quizzed by doctors from an A&E unit to find out if they are bringing in patients who do not need hospital treatment.
The medics from North Staffordshire's over-stretched emergency department will stand at the front door challenging paramedics as they arrive with cases.
The move comes after figures revealed the centre at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire receives nearly twice the rate of patients in ambulances than the national average.
Under the initiative, consultants have set aside five unannounced days in the coming weeks when they will ask paramedics if the casualties could have been treated at the scene or other settings instead.
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Ambulance bosses welcomed the scrutiny and said they would take action on any examples of people being wrongly taken to hospital.
The centre's consultants have revealed around 41 percent of the 100,000 patients flooding into A&E each year arrive by ambulance – compared to national norms of 24 per cent.
An additional 20,000-plus 999 calls a year received by the service in North Staffordshire result in ambulance crews treating patients at the scene.
Doctors and officials are also carrying out a review on 100 patients taken to A&E in a single week to see if they could have been treated elsewhere.
It is part of a programme to tackle soaring demand, which is causing A&E to miss Government targets on how quickly patients are seen.
And four wards earmarked for closure have just had to be re-commissioned at vast expense to cope with hundreds of extra patients needing to be admitted to beds from A&E.
It has now emerged cuts in services run by cash-strapped charities have forced more patients to use the unit as a last resort for their problems.
And West Midlands Ambulance Service said the rate of people being treated at the scene was increasing.
Medical director Dr Andy Carson said: "We are taking fewer patients than ever to A&E due to the increased skills of our staff, combined with suitable alternative care pathways such as minor injuries units and walk-in centres.
"We know from research, patients would rather be treated at home or locally than taken to hospital, so the fact we are able to do this in an increasing number of cases is good.
"But we still welcome scrutiny from hospitals of those patients that are conveyed."
NHS watchdogs welcomed the review – as long as it did not see ambulances turned back.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch said: "There is a feeling some people are taken by ambulance to the A&E when they should not be in hospital.
"This exercise will produce evidence on if and why this happens. But ambulances must not be turned away from the unit as it's not the patients' fault."