Labour’s plan for ending the chaos in A&E, which we are highlighting today, sets out a comprehensive and deliverable set of measures to improve conditions in A&E and across the health service. In drawing up our plan, we taken on board many of the lessons learned in St Lukes Hospital in Kilkenny. St Lukes is known throughout the health service as a hospital that works, and which has avoided the worst problems experienced in A&E units across the country. As I have seen on my previous visits to Kilkenny, there are a number of elements in making A&E departments function effectively, that we need to replicate.
As I have repeatedly emphasised, bed capacity is critical, both in terms of acute in-patient beds, and in respect of step-down facilities. That is why Labour is committed to building 2300 hospital beds and 1500 step-down beds.
We also need better organisation of A&E units and better liaison with local medical practitioners. A particular feature of St Luke’s is its Medical Assessment Unit, where patients can be seen, assessed and if necessary admitted to hospital without having to spend hours in A&E. Equally, it is important to have strong relationships with local GPs, to speed up admission to hospital based on a diagnosis made in the GP’s surgery. Too many people are spending too much time sitting in A&E, waiting to be seen by a less experienced doctor, when their GP has already assessed their condition.
Of course, we cannot exactly replicate the St Luke’s model in every hospital in every particular, but we can learn the lessons. Labour’s A&E plan sets out a series of measures to be put in place in A&E units across the country. These include medical assessment units, separate queues to treat minor injuries, better liaison with GPs and better facilities for GPs to diagnose problems before people go into hospital in the first instance.
We also need rigorous enforcement of cleaning protocols to end the phenomenon of dirty hospitals.
With these changes, and with the team-work approach which is so evident in St Luke’s, we can make a real difference to the A&E situation.