Health chiefs explore sending more ambulance patients to minor injuries unit at Cromer to ease pressure

Cromer Hospital. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Cromer Hospital. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Ambulances answering 999 calls in north Norfolk could take some patients to Cromer Hospital for treatment in future.

Health chiefs are exploring the possibility in a bid to cut the district's poor ambulance response times, get patients treated more quickly and ease pressure on the Accident and Emergency department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), where 999 patients needing treatment are currently taken.

The idea was suggested during a meeting of the local A&E Delivery Board.

There is no A&E department at Cromer Hospital but it has a Minor Injuries Unit which is open seven days a week, between 8am and 8pm.

Latest figures made available to the North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which represents 19 GP practices in north Norfolk and rural Broadland, show that ambulance response times in north Norfolk are still below target.

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Ambulances are expected to reach the most critical R1 and R2 category patients, with life-threatening conditions, within eight minutes, 75pc of the time. But in north Norfolk the R1 and R2 figures were 35.6pc and 34.6pc respectively in September.

An ambulance taking a patient from Cromer to the N&N would have to travel more than 25 miles, and the distance is even further from some parts of north Norfolk.

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A North Norfolk CCG spokesman said they had been asked recently at a meeting on managing hospital pressures whether there were any patients who dialled 999 who could 'properly and safely' be treated at Cromer Hospital's Minor Injuries Unit. 'It was suggested this might be more convenient for patients, reduce pressures on the N&N and also help the ambulance service by reducing journey times and keep ambulances in north Norfolk,' the spokesman added.

Mark Burgis, chief operating officer of North Norfolk CCG, said: 'It is an interesting idea but we must stress it is only a suggestion at this stage.

'We will need to pull together the right data and explore this very carefully to decide if it is worthwhile, safe and appropriate for patients and affordable within the extremely difficult financial confines we all have.'

Cromer mayor Tim Adams said: 'I'm glad to see they are always actively looking at ways of improving the level of service in north Norfolk,' he added. 'It's better for everyone if treatment is provided as near as possible to people's homes.'

The background

Poor response times in north Norfolk have dogged the ambulance trust for many years.

Due to the rural nature of the region and the long distances between settlements, the area has long had some of the worst response times in the country.

Another reason is that crews from north Norfolk are sometimes diverted across the county to answer emergency calls in other areas after they have taken a patient to the N&N or James Paget hospitals.

In March, this newspaper reported how one such crew had effectively worked a 20-hour day after they had to take a patient who needed urgent help to London.

Meanwhile, the rise in demand has put the N&N's A&E department under increasing pressure.

As more patients go to the A&E the longer it takes for ambulances to off-load patients to the hospital.

In October, crews waited about 701 hours outside the N&N compared to 471 hours in September.

There was also a rise in queueing outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, from 161 hours in September to 390 in October.

The N&N has the busiest A&E department in the east of England.

Medical care in Cromer: The chronology

Patient services in Cromer can be traced back 150 years to 1866.

In that year two cottages on Louden Road were purchased by a local committee, which are now known as West Cottage, where care was given to patients.

Services continued to be provided before Cromer and District Hospital officially opened in on July 20, 1932. According to the plans the hospital comprised an operating theatre, x-ray department, several wards, and five private rooms.

As the years have gone by, upgrades were made such as a pathology lab, a new outpatient building for clinics, a physiotherapy department, and a dermatology unit.

A rebuild in 2010-12 was then made possible after local resident Sagle Bernstein left the hospital more than £11m in her will.

Analysis by Nicholas Carding (EDP and Evening News health correspondent)

At first glance it appears this suggestion is a win-win for all parties.

North Norfolk ambulance crews repeatedly get dragged across the county, and sometimes into Suffolk and beyond, because the nearest A&E departments are at the Norfolk and Norwich (N&N) and James Paget hospitals.

Both those A&Es would benefit from fewer patients coming through the 'front door' to ease pressure.

But unfortunately it is not as simple as that.

As the CCG points out, chiefs will have to be extremely careful when considering, firstly the safety, and secondly the financial consequences, of ambulances being able to take patients to Cromer Hospital.

A minor injuries unit (MIU) can only treat patients with less serious conditions such as sprains, wound infections, minor burns, minor head injuries, and insect and animal bites. In most cases these patients should not need an ambulance to get to hospital.

If this idea is to work then Cromer's MIU needs investment in equipment and staffing, and its opening times extended.

Given the present financial climate of the NHS it's difficult to imagine this happening.

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