Elderly patients seeking care at Antrim Area Hospital can now avoid unnecessary waits through referral to the Direct Assessment Unit.
Staff in the DAU can now give advice to GPs and assess general medicine, nephrology, cardiology and diabetes patients, as well as frail elderly people who require a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment (CGA).
GPs can speak directly to medical staff and refer patients for treatment and care in the Unit, as an alternative to them having to go to the Emergency Department.
In addition to avoiding unnecessary waits, this ensures patients are treated in the most suitable place to get the care they need it.
The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service can also refer directly to DAU.
Patients that do not need to be seen urgently on that day can also be referred to a Rapid Access Medical Clinic where they are given an appointment to attend the next day at a specific time.
The DAU is open from 9am until 8pm for patients arriving before 6.00pm Monday to Friday.
It is located in the old emergency department and consists of flexible clinical space for trolleys and chairs, depending on patient need, and also facilities to care for patients who require isolation.
An initial assessment is carried out by nursing staff and then a doctor sees all patients and a plan of care is developed for them.
Patients are either treated and discharged or stabilised and referred to the appropriate ward.
In June 2016, 183 of the 270 people seen were treated and discharged while 85 were admitted into the hospital and two people were transferred to other services.
The DAU includes staff from a range of areas such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers.
DAU doctor Ryan Cherry said: “The Unit was developed in partnership with GPs and we would encourage all of them to refer to it when appropriate, particularly care of the elderly patients.
“Access through the GP ensures people are seen quickly, get the appropriate care which leads to better patient outcomes.
“Feedback from patients and GPs has been very positive and it benefits the flow of the hospital overall by allowing quicker assessment and treatment thereby avoiding longer stays in hospital than necessary.”
Recent DAU patient Anne Lynn saw a doctor hospital doctor immediately after her GP rang an ambulance to take her to hospital.
She then met with a member of the specialised team for her condition.
A scan and further investigations were arranged immediately and she was admitted to the hospital directly from the DAU.
She said: “I was really happy with how fast I was seen. It was unbelievable.”
Another 81-year-old woman from Newtownabbey also expressed delight at the care she received in the DAU.
“I am a diabetic and was feeling unwell for 3-4 weeks,” she explained.
“I was at the diabetes clinic and after this my daughter decided to ring my GP for some extra tests to be arranged.
“My GP appointment was at 11am and the test results came back at 3pm.
“My GP rang me and said I had to go to the Unit at the hospital the next morning.
“My time to come was 10am and I was seen before this time.
“I had an xray and different tests done and treatment was started straightaway.
“I was feeling much better once I had treatment in the Unit and I was glad that something was being done.
“All the staff in the Unit were lovely and it was a great experience going there.”
The DAU is part of a wider programme of modernisation and reform by the Northern Trust to develop alternative paths into hospital and to improve care for patients and clients.