When it began on October 18, the policy by the South Eastern Health and Social Services Trust, that patients must phone the A&E department to be assessed and given an appointment before presenting at the Lisburn hospital, proved to be somewhat controversial. Local residents, as well as politicians, expressed serious concern about the move, with Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councillors urging the Trust to reconsider the policy.
However, despite the concerns, ‘Phone First’ has been shown to improve the experience at the A&E for patients, who no longer have to wait for hours to be assessed.
Emergency Medical Consultant and Clinical Lead at the Lagan Valley Hospital Emergency Department, Dr Rob Barclay, said that due to staffing issues the department had been struggling. However with the introduction of ‘Phone First’, it was now much more sustainable.
He also revealed that an independent survey had shown a 98.1% approval rating amongst patients using the new system.
“The ‘Phone First’ system was introduced at the Downe Hospital and feedback from service users was very good,” explained Dr Barclay. “There was a marked reduction in the number of ambulance transfers for people who cannot receive care, which was one big thing we were trying to achieve.
“We were able to apply that model from Downe to some degree at here.
“The Lagan Valley can deal with the vast majority of medical issues but we don’t have intensive care, we don’t have surgery, obs/gynae, or paediatric wards. What that means is that if you have a surgical emergency we have to transfer you to another hospital that can provide that intervention, which could cause delay in treatment. We want to avoid having people here we can’t treat.”
Leanne Wilson, Sister at the Lagan Valley Emergency Department explained that when patients call the department, they will be assessed by a senior doctor, who will either give them an appointment, or give the advice on where they should attend, whether that is a pharmacy, GP, or alternative hospital with advanced services such as the Ulster.
“A patient who would phone 999 should continue to do so,” continued Dr Barclay. “A patient who would have gone in a car to A&E are asked to call and speak to a senior doctor in the department, who will assess the condition of the patient.
“They will typically be given an appointment within 90 minutes.”
Dr Barclay confirmed that the number of patients being treated at the Lagan Valley A&E has not been drastically reduced, but the service is being delivered more efficiently with a marked reduction in the number of patients being transferred to other hospitals.
“Previously, before the introduction of ‘Phone First’ we would have had 90 attendances a day,” continued Dr Barclay. “Over the last four weeks we have had an average of 84 patients a day.
“The total number of people attending the department is reduced by very little overall, the activity in the department is not hugely different, however what we do know is that we have significantly reduced our transfers out for people whose conditions we are unable to deal with.”
Dr Barclay concluded: “Lagan Valley is a fantastic hospital site and serves its community very well. Every time we make service changes there is a degree of concern but the service users feedback we have got is excellent. People didn’t realise it was going to be as quick and as easy.
“I have always been proud of the service here and the quality of care we are able to offer patients. We want to maximise what the Lagan Valley site can offer and we also want to help people in the community to access the service in a better way.”
If you need to attend the Lagan Valley Hospital A&E, contact the Department first by calling (028) 9260 4643. Find out more about the Phone First policy online at https://setrust.hscni.net/our-hospitals/hospital-3/emergency-department-lagan-valley-hospital/