Over-crowding and delays in region's healthcare highlighted in new report

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has worked on reducing ambulance handover delays. Picture: Chris Bishop

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital has worked on reducing ambulance handover delays. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Inspectors assessing the region's health system were met with crowded emergency departments, staff shortages and patients forced to wait more than 12 hours for urgent care.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission recently held a review into urgent and emergency care in Norfolk and Waveney, which saw it visit 20 different parts of the region's health care system.

They inspected aspects of the three main hospitals, several GP surgeries and adult social care settings, with visits taking place between December and February.

Publishing its findings today, the regulator has called for urgent action to be taken to help reduce pressure and reduce lengthy waiting times for assessment and treatments.

These recommendations come despite inspectors praising the individual running of each aspect they visited - rather highlighting systemwide problems hampering the way they could work alongside each other.

Mandy Williams, director of integrated care, inequalities and improvement at the CQC, said: "Many of the services we inspected in Norfolk and Waveney as part of this review were providing good care that met people's needs and ensured their safety.

"Although the emergency departments we visited were well run, a high number of people waited over 13 hours for assessment and treatment. This led to overcrowded departments, delayed ambulance handovers and risk to patients.

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"A significant issue behind this was staff shortages affecting other services people used when they had less pressing medical needs."

She added that these had led to patients being unable to access GP, dental and NHS 111 services, resulting in "unnecessary 99 calls and hospital visits".

She added: "We also found staff shortages in adult social care meant people remained in hospital when they should have been discharged to respite services.

"Not only was this wrong for these patients, it led to delays in emergency departments due to insufficient beds elsewhere in hospital for people to receive further assessment and treatment."

These pressures led to a range of attempts to manage the situation from health leaders, including bring GPs into emergency departments and making use of a 'care hotel' in Norwich.

However, the CQC director added: "Despite these initiatives and the examples of good practice we saw at individual services, system-wide workforce planning and increased community health and social care provision is required to meet local people's needs.

"If delivered successfully, this would reduce pressure on urgent and emergency care services and reduce the risk of harm to people living in Norfolk and Waveney."

A spokesman for the Norfolk and Waveney health care service said: "The CQC's review took place against the backdrop of considerable and on-going pressures within urgent and emergency care that were being experienced both locally and nationally, resulting from seasonal pressures, the Covid-19 pandemic and workforce challenges.

"Our priority is ensuring that patients have access to safe and high-quality services wherever they live and we welcome the opportunity to make improvements to how we approach these challenges as an integrated care system to help ensure services meet local people's needs.

“By working collaboratively as a health and care system we can ensure that local people and communities can receive sustainable, high-quality, safe and effective urgent and emergency care services at the right time and in the right place and every patient’s care journey is as smooth as possible.”

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk - Credit: Richard Jarmy Photography

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "The report highlights the fragility of the health and social care system across Norfolk and Waveney.

"Plans are being worked on by health and social care bodies but there is no quick fix to this situation.

"There is clearly a major problem attracting people into the health and social care sectors as well as attracting people to work and live in Norfolk.

"We will be working with the health and social care system across Norfolk and Waveney to help address the issues of those people struggling to access care and we will be keeping the public informed on any progress made which are making in-roads to overcome these delays."