EDINBURGH Royal Infirmary bosses will be ordered to get tough with time-wasters under new plans revealed by Health Minister Alex Neil.
Hospitals have been told to focus on priority patients and redirect non-urgent cases to help reduce waiting times for those in greatest need.
The new triage system – based on a model used by NHS Tayside – will see patients first assessed by a senior clinician before being either treated or moved on to their GP, NHS 24 or out-of-hours clinics.
The move, which sees the A&E departments at Perth Royal Infirmary and Ninewells in Dundee redirect 4000 patients each year, is backed by NHS Lothian.
The A&E department at the Capital’s flagship hospital, St John’s in Livingston, the Sick Kids and the minor injuries unit at the Western General currently see 250,000 patients each year.
But the ERI has long struggled to hit targets of treating A&E patients within four hours. In January last year, there were 2334 breaches in total, with 75 people waiting more than half a day.
Dr David Farquharson, medical director for NHS Lothian, said the new recommendations would form part of ongoing improvements it was making to patient care.
He said: “We have invested significantly over the last year in improving emergency care, including employing new staff, increasing our capacity and implementing new processes to reduce the time people are waiting.
“We welcome the new guidance and will continue to work to ensure that people receive the right care at the right time in the right place, whether that is in hospital, minor injuries clinics, GP surgery or out-of-hours clinics.”
Mr Neil said the plan was designed to ensure patients with the most pressing need get access to the fastest possible treatment.
Patients likely to be referred would include those with conditions such as in-grown toenails, toothache or earache.
Mr Neil said: “This new guidance will make sure that all patients are getting the right treatment, in the right place and by the right clinicians. That not only helps the NHS meet demands, but it is better for patients as they get treated quicker.
“This new policy builds on the best practice already in place in our NHS, and helps to signpost patients to a range of different NHS services, and ensure many patients receive faster treatment for minor ailments outwith A&E.
But Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw warned against using a “bouncer policy” at A&E. He said: “There’s clearly an issue with too many people attending A&E when they don’t have to. This is one good way of making sure those who really need the care get it, while those who can be dealt with at a lower level are directed there.
“However, it’s important this ‘bouncer policy’ doesn’t go too far. Adopting a policy that is too strict could well damage patient care.”