The Bed Crisis and Phone Triage

The fact that the NHS hospitals are short of beds isn’t something that few people know about, many people are well aware of the constant high demands placed on the NHS, you only need to sit in a waiting room at your local GP or nearest A&E to know this (and that’s without a global pandemic).

In winter, the NHS use ‘Escalation Beds’ to meet the increased demand of patients. However, these escalation beds are being used throughout the year. The problem is,  bed occupancy in a hospital shouldn’t be 100%, the NHS have set a target of 92%, but in an ideal world it would be 85% to reduce any risks of infection. When bed occupancy becomes dangerously high, escalation beds are required, and this problem is becoming more frequent.

This is an issue that I understand, but also wish I had an answer to. I think that educating people about how to effectively use our nation’s healthcare service is something that’s very important, for example at my local GP there are signs explaining that colds cannot be treated with antibiotics, so in the nicest way possible, don’t book an appointment asking for them! I do believe advertisement and education is important and not too costly, however it’s not necessarily the most effective solution to the problem.

Something I have read recently, is an article on the BBC about a Welsh hospital that’s developed a phone triage scheme for A&E. Those without life-threatening illnesses will have to call to be assessed by a clinician to stop overcrowding. The patient can be booked a slot in the Emergency Unit or Minor Injuries or even be given advice on alternative options if an appointment isn’t necessary. Although this has been created to prevent overcrowding, allowing people to socially distance during the pandemic, I think it will also work to prevent people coming to A&E unnecessarily and will make them aware of their alternative options. This helps to educate people and encourage them to use other services provided to them, as well as reducing pressure on A&E staff. Obviously, it’s not without it’s flaws, there are people who don’t have access to a phone (crazy, I know) and so this may not work for them. However, if those that do have a phone use this service, it means that there is still reduced pressure, even if those without phones don’t use it. This system still means that clinicians will be needed, but instead of seeing patients physically, it’ll be over the phone, which will still take up their time.

I’m intrigued to see if this system does work, and what impact it has. It’s not something made to directly target the bed crisis as such, but it could still have an impact nonetheless.


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