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How specialist A&E for over-80s is transforming care


An emergency unit at a Norwich hospital has reduced ward admissions and is helping shield urgent non-COVID-19 patients.

The older people’s emergency department (Oped) – a special unit at the Norfolk and Norwich university hospital – is providing emergency care for patients over 80.

Launched in 2017, the unit, just down the corridor from A&E, has six beds, two in side rooms and no waiting room. Normally, it admits patients identified as frail and usually with multiple conditions that need a lot of care (such as cognitive impairment, incontinence or reduced mobility). They are brought straight in by ambulance or trolley from other parts of the hospital and seen by a consultant geriatrician within two hours.

A team of nurses with experience in both emergency care and care of the elderly, pharmacists and physiotherapists are on hand to support patients much more quickly than A&E to get patients out of hospital and back home within the same day wherever possible. For patients who need to stay longer after treatment there is an adjacent ambulatory ward.

This unique model is showing results. The proportion of the specialist department’s patients admitted to the hospital is 50% compared with 68% for the same age group of emergency patients coming to the hospital five years ago, when they were treated at the normal A&E. When Oped patients are admitted, their average length of stay is 1.2 days less.

“It’s just what we want for old people,” says Dr Sarah Bailey, the department’s lead consultant geriatrician. “We get the experts in straight away because we recognised that’s the best thing for [them]”.

During the pandemic, the unit is helping to keep those who do not have coronavirus symptoms, such as those with injuries from falls and some stroke patients, away from the main A&E ward, providing a degree of shielding not normally possible.

But for most NHS trusts, providing a separate unit like Oped is not feasible. “Hospitals are working to separate emergency patients with respiratory problems from those with other conditions,” says Dr Jay Banerjee, who leads the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s work on emergency care for the elderly. “But most just do not have the capacity to also try to separate elderly patients with other conditions from younger patients.”

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Source: The Guardian, 27 May 2020

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