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Improving patient access to urgent and emergency care in Dorset: A report by Healthwatch Dorset

by | Oct 12, 2023 | Healthwatch Dorset, Local Healthwatch

In its latest report, Healthwatch Dorset explores the challenges faced by patients as they navigate urgent and emergency healthcare services in Dorset, identifying ways to improve people’s understanding and access to these vital services.

NHS Dorset asked Healthwatch Dorset to independently evaluate patient experiences to gauge their understanding of the different urgent and emergency healthcare settings, including Minor Injuries Units (MIU), hospital Emergency Departments (ED) and Urgent Treatment Centres (UTC), and to assess their accessibility. Healthwatch Dorset also gathered insights from frontline staff about potential improvements to streamline services more effectively.

Key findings

Several key findings are presented in the report, based on feedback gathered in April 2023 from 56 patients, observational data, and conversations with healthcare staff.

  • A lack of communication between units, patients, and NHS 111, including around NHS 111’s role in booking appointments/notifying services that a patient will be attending.
  • Limited awareness among patients about the distinctions between MIUs and UTCs and what care these services provide, leading to a preference for visiting an ED or calling NHS 111.
  • Inconsistent and outdated information materials within
    healthcare units.
  • Underutilisation of MIU services in rural areas.
  • An increase in patients visiting MIUs and UTCs who require primary
    care rather than urgent or emergency, due to lack of GP and
    dentist appointments.
  • Geographical inaccuracies on the Stay Well Dorset website regarding UTCs and MIUs.

Recommendations

In the report, Healthwatch Dorset makes the following recommendations to NHS Dorset to help enhance public understanding and access to urgent and emergency care services.

  • Use clear, simple, consistent communication, including for the names and descriptions of different services and for signs directing people in the different healthcare settings.
  • Regularly engage with frontline staff to understand the types of patients they are seeing and how to improve the service for patients and staff, and to share learning.
  • Review NHS 111 algorithms and pathways to make sure there is discussion with patients about their options and to ensure they are directed to the most appropriate service.
  • Standardise services and staffing across MIUs and UTCs so that all units in Dorset can provide the same level of service.
  • Urgently update the Stay Well Dorset website with accurate geographical information about MIUs and UTCs.
  • Launch a public awareness campaign to help people understand when and how to use the different urgent and emergency care services, and collaborate with health, care and community organisations and the media, to disseminate this across the county.

Creating positive change

Healthwatch Dorset has shared this report with key stakeholders, including NHS Dorset, University Hospitals Dorset (UHD) NHS Foundation Trust, Dorset County Hospitals, Dorset Healthcare and Healthwatch England. Collaborative work is now underway to incorporate patient engagement and experience into the design and delivery of services in Dorset.

James Spriggs, Transformation Project Manager at Dorset Healthcare, welcomed the report’s findings, noting that it provides invaluable evidence for reshaping urgent care services in line with population needs. He added: “The Urgent Care Transformation Programme was set up with the objectives of creating an objectively clear and consistent Community Urgent Care Offer in Dorset, while increasing staff and public satisfaction and wellbeing. One of the key ambitions is to co-design and co-produce the new care model with the public. To do this effectively, we need to take an evidence-based approach and garner public opinion to inform the design. The knowledge and experience of Healthwatch has supported us to gather hugely valuable evidence directly from people using our services.”

Read the full report: healthwatchdorset.co.uk/reports-publications

You can share your feedback with Healthwatch Dorset about any health and social care service, by visiting their website: healthwatchdorset.co.uk/talk-to-us/ or by calling Freephone 0300 111 0102.

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