Our latest project reveals why people go to A&E at the Royal Berkshire Hospital

Posted 31/10/2016

More than half of people going to A&E seek help from other healthcare services first, and most of these services tell them to go to hospital, according to a new survey by Healthwatch Reading.

The survey report is being presented to local councillors at the Reading Health and Wellbeing Board meeting on 7 October. The findings come as the Royal Berkshire Hospital tells the public to only attend its emergency department for ‘serious and life-threatening injuries’, as it struggles to cope with the numbers turning up.

Healthwatch Reading staff and volunteers carried out engagement sessions on seven consecutive days in the hospital’s ED. The findings showed:

  • the most common health problem leading to a person’s visit to the emergency department was an accident (39%), followed by a new symptom (14%), or a change in a long-term condition (10%)
  • nearly half of people (48%) had experienced their health problem for between one and seven days beforehand
  • more than half of people (55%, 127 out of 232) had sought help from other services before going to the emergency department and nearly 8 in 10 (79%) of those people said the service they contacted, advised them to go to the emergency department
  • nearly half of people (48%, 34 out of 71) who didn’t seek help from any other service, said they would do so next time if they had more information about alternative services in their area

During the visits, Healthwatch Reading staff and volunteers also observed patients being unable to hear emergency department doctors call them through to the clinical area; not enough seating in the waiting room for unwell patients during busy times; and reception staff sometimes not noticing arriving patients straight away.

As a result of the findings, Healthwatch Reading has recommended that the whole local NHS system take action to address these issues.

Mandeep Kaur Sira, chief executive of Healthwatch Reading said: ‘People are doing the right thing by seeking help before making a decision to go to A&E but more often than not they are told by other NHS services, to go to hospital. This raises the question about consistency of messages from various services including GPs, 111, the walk-in centre, and others, about the right place to go for their care.’

Healthwatch Reading has presented the findings to the Berkshire West A&E Delivery Board, which includes commissioners who plan and fund NHS services. They have indicated they are drawing up an action plan to address the issues and will formally respond by the end of October.

Our survey was answered by 249 people: 11% of the total number of people who attended the emergency department in the week from Monday 16 May to Sunday 22 May 2016.

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