We have highlighted public concern about the delivery, accessibility and quality of emergency care not only in Belfast but right across Northern Ireland.
'The People's Priorities' and 'Young People's Priorities' reports reflect the very real concerns people have about hospital care, accident and emergency services, out-of-hours care and waiting times for test appointments and treatment.
We have spoken to patients and their families and heard that the health service does many things well. However it is apparent that the same issues of concern come up time and again when patient experiences are described. These issues are largely to do with getting the right information, timely access to care, and being treated with dignity and respect.
People have particular concerns about accident and emergency services or "Emergency Departments" as they are now known. When using these services people can feel vulnerable and need reassurance that services are safe and will meet their needs. We are currently supporting the many people who are unhappy about the experience they have had in hospitals across Northern Ireland and have wanted to make a formal complaint. People have told us they want to see improvements in waiting times for treatment, staffing levels, access to local emergency services and communication between staff, patients and carers.
When speaking to the Patient and Client Council, patients are generally positive about the actual treatment they receive in the Emergency Departments. However improved information is a recurring theme in these discussions, including an understanding of where people should go in the first place when they need help. People are often unsure of the best place to go for treatment, with advice and information difficult to obtain. Patients are uncertain whether to contact a GP out of Hours service, visit a Minor Injuries Unit or to go direct to their main Emergency Department. Consequently, the Patient and Client Council has called on Health and Social Care organisations to make better information available to patients and their families on where they can get the right treatment.
Accessibility to health and social care services as a whole is a major concern for people across Northern Ireland, particularly in rural areas. People who live in rural areas told the Patient and Client Council of the difficulties they face in making an initial contact with someone by telephone, travelling long distances to the nearest treatment centre and the specific difficulty of getting a doctor to make a home visit. In talking to people there was a strong desire to improve access to primary care services over a 24-hour period and indeed for more services to be available at primary care level.
We have highlighted the need for the patient experience to be better understood, to improve how services are delivered. Staff providing care need to not only provide treatments for an actual illness but to treat people with dignity and respect. People have praised the staff on the treatment they have received, recognise how busy they can be and very much value all the efforts they make. However a little more consideration and thought could help patients and carers cope more easily in what is very often a stressful situation for them. Privacy and dignity should always be part of care and everyone should feel they are understood and considered an individual.
Good communication is central to this respect. People, whether they are a patient or a carer, need to know what is happening.
If you are not satisfied with the health and social care service you are receiving then the Patient and Client Council can help you to make a complaint. If you require this service contact us on 0800 917 0222. You can also download the Patient and Client Council's People's Priorities for Transforming Your Care Report 2012 published this month at patientclientcouncil.hscni.net.