LETTER: Huge demand on A&E departments

Accident and Emergency Departments all over the country have seen huge numbers of patients over the long and cold winter, but demand has continued to be high in spring.

At Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust that runs the Emergency Department at East Surrey Hospital, we have seen unprecedented numbers of attendances at our Emergency Department this spring.

Despite high volumes of patients, the investment we have made in the building and in staff means our patients are telling us that they are having a better experience and that our staff are caring and efficient.

But I want to apologise to those patients who haven’t had the experience we’d like them to have due to the high demand for our emergency service.

I would like to sincerely apologise to patients who have had a longer than expected wait or had their elective surgery cancelled. I’d also like to thank our staff for their exceptional hard work to keep our patients safe.

East Surrey Hospital had 1,000 more Emergency Department attendances in March (7,100) than in either January (6,354) or February (6,180). Due to the high numbers of patients in the hospital in March, the hospital was already very full going into April.

Add into the mix the Easter bank holiday weekend – a notoriously busy time for Emergency Departments - and you have a challenge to ensure patients flow through the hospital services in a timely way.

We are the busiest blue light hospital in the south. Almost 40 per cent of patients attending our Emergency Department last year arrived by ambulance, and 20 per cent of these were people aged between 80 and 89 years, and often these patients need to be admitted for further care and treatment. We have 650 beds in the hospital but these soon get filled when so many patients are arriving each day.

We have on average 95 ambulances per day, but in April we had almost 120 ambulances arrive – we’ve never had so many arrive in one day.

There are times when the Emergency Department is absolutely the right place to be, but for some people it might not be the best place. I’m thinking here of our very sick elderly patients who might prefer to spend their last days in the familiar surroundings of their home or care home, and we need to work with our partners in social care to ensure patients are getting the healthcare they need in the way that they choose.

Last year (2011/12) over 73000 people came to the hospital’s Emergency Department. Of those 36 per cent of people (26,200) were discharged without any follow-up; 22,000 patients were discharged with a referral or a follow-up with their GP; and 20,100 patients were admitted.

Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust runs East Surrey Hospital in Redhill and provides a range of services at hospitals in Crawley, Horsham, Dorking, Caterham and the Oxted Health Centre.

It serves residents in East Surrey and Northeast West Sussex, is the designated hospital for Gatwick Airport and the M25, and has growing catchment population of 535,000.

The Trust employs about 3,500 staff and has an annual budget of £220m delivering vital NHS services. For more information see www.surreyandsussex.nhs.uk

MICHAEL WILSON

CEO, Surrey and Sussex Healthcare Trust, East Surrey Hospital, Redhill