East Kent Hospitals takes steps to shorten A&E waits

East Kent Hospitals is due to welcome ten emergency doctors to its emergency departments in the next two months and has put in place a number of measures to improve waiting times.

Throughout August, A&E waiting times in east Kent for non-urgent patients have remained high. Doctor vacancies and some spikes in attendances are the biggest factors, alongside a need to transform systems within both the hospitals and wider NHS in east Kent – something which all NHS organisations are working hard to do.

The number of people attending east Kent’s emergency departments dropped by around 430 compared with July, with an average of more than 440 people attending Margate and Ashford’s emergency departments each day.

Around 10 to 13 additional patients a day who would have previously been taken to the Urgent Care Centre at Kent and Canterbury Hospital for urgent treatment currently attend the Ashford and Margate hospitals. This is as the local NHS expected and planned for, but it is adding an additional challenge. At the moment the K&C Hospital’s urgent care centre treats patients for minor illness and injuries. This service is available 24/7.

Data released by NHS England today shows 61.8% of patients attending the Emergency Departments in Ashford and Margate were seen, treated, admitted to a hospital bed or discharged within four hours in August, compared with 61.2% in July. The national standard for hospitals to reach is 95%.

The Trust’s overall position, which includes its minor injuries units, is meeting the four-hour standard for 70% of patients – the same as in July. This means around 400 people a day waiting fewer than four hours across east Kent out of 570.

“While critically ill patients are prioritised and treated quickly, waiting in an emergency department for a long time is not the standard we want for any of our patients,” said Chief Executive Matthew Kershaw. “We carefully monitor our services to ensure that patients are receiving safe standards of care, but having to wait for a long time in A&E can be uncomfortable and worrying, and isn’t a good experience. Staff are working extremely hard to care for patients but it is challenging, as we need to cover vacant posts with temporary staff, as well as wider issues with peaks in patient attendance and ensuring the entire local NHS is caring for patients in the right place at the right time, whether that’s in a hospital bed, in a community setting or at home.

“We have recruited ten emergency doctors who are due to start with us in the next two months, and we are recruiting to nursing posts. We are also putting in place a number of measures to improve, including treating more types of illness and injury in other parts of the hospital to relieve the pressure on the emergency departments. We have been successful in a bid for £800k to help make the relatively small departments at Ashford and Margate hospitals more fit for purpose, so we have begun refurbishment work to increase the space available and provide a better environment for sick or injured patients.

“While we are confident this will help, we will still need more staff and we will need to make further improvements. It will take some time for us to reach the national four-hour standard, but we are making this a priority.”

The Trust is providing three new treatment areas at Ashford’s emergency department and has just opened a new ambulatory care unit. (Ambulatory care means hospital treatment for some conditions without the need for an overnight stay in hospital.) The new unit at Ashford will help to relieve pressure on the emergency department by seeing, treating and discharging people who do not need to be admitted to a ward.

At Margate, the space for ambulatory care is being expanded so staff can see more people, with a combined surgical assessment unit. A separate area for children will be better for families and the mental health liaison service will be in place 24 hours a day by the end of September.