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West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive, Samantha Jones: 'Unless you need A&E don’t come to A&E'
The boss of Watford General Hospital has urged people to "take responsibility" for their health and only come to A&E if they need to.
Samantha Jones said people needing treatment should consider options such as the minor injuries unit in St Albans and the urgent care centre in Hemel Hempstead rather than heading straight to A&E.
She also advised people to use the NHS 111 helpline to help them decide where the most appropriate place to go for treatment is.
Her comments come after Watford General Hospital had to divert ambulances away from its A&E for around two hours last week after it became overwhelmed.
Ms Jones, who became the chief executive of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust in February, said: "I am a mother of four-year-old twins and I know that if something happens I want to take them to a place of safety. But there are alternatives where people can go, so A&Es are really for and should only be for people requiring full accident and emergency services.
"There is 111, there’s the GP’s practice, there are out of hours services, there are urgent care centres and walk in centres. There are lots of places people can go to to be seen faster and more safely that coming into an A&E department. Unless you need A&E don’t come to A&E.
"Taking personal responsibility for our health is something we do need to do."
Figures obtained by the Watford Observer showed that admissions to Watford General’s A&E have almost doubled since 2007. Since 2009, when A&E at Hemel Hempstead was closed, Watford is only one of two full time A&Es in the county, along with Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
Ms Jones, who started her career as a nurse, said Watford’s A&E could cope with the increased numbers because around £32 million had been invested in the Watford department after Hemel Hempstead closed.
She added: "One of the main concerns that people had was did we have enough capacity to deal with the changes following the Hemel closure, and the answer to that is absolutely yes."
Ms Jones said last week’s ambulance redirect was largely the result of a general increase in elderly patients with complex conditions who the hospital could not discharge without community support services.
She added: "It was a combination of a small increase in the number of people attending but also an increase in the type of people attending. And we had a number of patients we could have discharged working with our partners making sure they had the right support in the community. And that all happened in one go.
"Last Monday there were 45 patients who were not requiring care from the acute trust but weren’t fit enough to go home by themselves. And we have a responsibility and a duty of care, so we work with our partners in social care and the community and primary care to make sure those patients are safe and fit enough to go home.
"And that’s people going in to make sure they are feeding themselves correctly, going in to change their dressings as you cannot just discharge them as then need support in the community."
The chief executive said the hospital was currently working with social services and the Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust to improve the time it takes to discharge elderly and vulnerable patients.
She said a strategy was also being worked on to prevent unnecessary admissions to A&E if patients could be treated in the community.
On top of this, the number of beds in A&E is being increased ahead of the winter period to speed up treatment of patients.
The six beds dedicated to shorter-term ambulatory care are being tripled to 18 in an effort to treat and discharge patients quicker.
Ms Jones added: "It’s like a pitstop for want of a better word for describing it. So you have diagnostics, you have X-rays, you have bloods that can be taken very quickly so you understand what it is with the patient and you can treat them very quickly and discharge them."
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