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NHS staff in Norfolk reveal ‘constant battle’ to keep services afloat in new report

PUBLISHED: 08:38 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:51 25 July 2017

Picture: Ian Burt

Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2006

The people who make Norfolk’s NHS function have opened their hearts about the “constant battle” they face to keep services afloat.

Stock photo of a nurse. Photo: ArchantStock photo of a nurse. Photo: Archant

In a hard-hitting report, staff from numerous areas - including consultants, nurses and therapists - have told their tales of staff shortages, poor communication, unmanageable workloads and a surge in the number of patients.

Healthwatch Norfolk spoke to 31 NHS staff members, with issued raised including:

■ Demands on GPs were “unwieldly and a constant battle from day to day, with supply unable to meet demand”

■ IT systems used across the county were not compatible with each other and some organisations used outdated methods of communication

■ Too many inappropriate referrals were being received by mental health professionals, possibly because of fears patients would otherwise be overlooked

■ One GP surgery receiving 400 calls per day

■ Many services still relying on fax machines for communication.

The report into working relations with GP practices said patient expectations continued to rise, but the communication between GPs, mental health services, district nursing services and hospitals was not always working.

The report was set against a backdrop of rising demand across all services, and the report found doctors’ practices were being asked to take on an increasing number of patients by NHS England.

One surgery reported receiving up to 400 calls a day and the workload in general practice was consistently referred to as “unmanageable” as a result of rising demands.

One staff member from Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust (NCHC) said: “Every day we have to move patients around because we just don’t have the nurses to go and see them all or the healthcare assistants.”

They added: “So historically it was like a gold service, British Airways, first class, lovely. It’s now EasyJet. We can still get you there. It’s still safe. It’s that difference that patients don’t understand and we don’t have those honest conversations.

“And so, I believe that patient’s expectations probably have gone up but the service has gone down, so we can’t meet them because we don’t have capacity or the resources to.”

Staff also pointed to the internet as changing what patients wanted. A staff member from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King’s Lynn said: “Patients are more aware of what could be done and what’s on offer, whether it’s entirely appropriate for them or not.”

It was reported the hospital had seen a 16pc increase in ambulance attendances. Another member of staff added: “We used to see 160-170 [patients] a day. Now we’re going over 200 [patients] every single day, with no further resource and no budgets to deal with that.”

At the James Paget University Hospital (JPUH) in Gorleston, an employee said: “I think the problem is everything’s 24/7. Tesco is 24/7. So if you can go and buy a pint of milk at 3 o’clock in the morning from Tesco, if you’ve got earache, you don’t want to wait for two days to go and see a GP.”

As well as soaring demand, IT systems which did not work together were said to be grinding our NHS to a halt. A reliance on fax in many places slowed things down, and the report found “for some professionals IT systems presented as a barrier to effective patient care, as we were told that IT systems at times cannot work to pace, are often slow and can be a hindrance in a busy healthcare environment”.

A staff member at the QEH said: “IT systems, I think are not geared for it, they are not fast enough. They freeze. The equipment sometimes doesn’t keep up to the expectation. The system is slow, it’s not very friendly either.”

At JPUH, a staff member added all their different systems had a separate log in. They said: “So even though we’ve all got smart cards, you can’t put your smart card in and just get logged into all these systems. And they all log you out after a certain period of time, so you spend your life putting in passwords.”

The majority reported IT systems were not compatible with each other. For example, at NSFT it was found the Norfolk Recovery Partnerships - which is part of the trust - used a different system. An NSFT staff member added: “A lot of patients that you see in crisis, and then on wards, unless you’ve known them before, they’ve been through mental health services, they won’t be on Lorenzo [our IT system]. So lots of things you do, you’re doing completely blind. You don’t actually know what’s coming through the door, or know whose house you’re going round.”

All the organisations said it would be beneficial to introduce one system across the county.

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