ITV News Health Correspondent Rebecca Barry joins the Physician Response Unit, who are adapting to soaring A&E waiting times by 'bringing the hospital to patients'
It’s 7.30am and we’re in a lift heading up to the helipad on the 17th floor of the Royal London Hospital.
This is where the Physician Response Unit is based. We’re joining them as they start their 12-hour shift treating patients across north east London.
But rather than bring their patients into hospital - they bring the hospital to them.
As Emergency Departments face unprecedented pressures - this is one way of relieving the strain and, most importantly, improving patient care.
We get into a rapid response car along with a consultant, an emergency medical technician and almost all the equipment that you’d find in an A&E department.
Dr James Webster, tells me they see the same "spectrum" of people who come into the Emergency Department.
"We are trying to go to more vulnerable patients. Waiting in a busy Emergency Department is not the right place for them," he says.
It’s not long before they get their first call. A 67-year-old man is feeling weak and unable to walk. The blue lights and sirens go on as we race along the A12.
Inside a first-floor flat we meet retired bus driver, George Boateng. He’s feeling cold, dizzy and shaky.
The team check his heart, blood pressure, temperature, they access his medical notes online and even have the equipment to take blood tests, with results in minutes.
George has type 2 diabetes, is anaemic and has just spent 10 days in hospital. Through tears, his wife, Monica, who rushed home from her cleaning job, tells me she’s worried and scared. But Dr Webster soon has reassuring news. George’s results look normal and taking him to hospital “wouldn’t be the right thing". He says George would spend hours waiting in A&E and they’d conduct the same tests they’ve already completed.
He adds that he’ll now contact George’s GP and ensure he gets the follow-up help he needs. George is visibly relieved. "When I go to the A&E, it takes about 10, 12 hours to be looked after so I am happy with this service that they’ve provided for me," he adds.
Last year the service helped almost 4,000 people, 70% of them were treated in the community - avoiding the need for a trip to an A&E or a hospital admission.
While it costs £1.5 million a year to run, it’s thought to save the system £2 million.
Back at the Royal London Hospital, the A&E department is full. Some people have been waiting 18 hours. So, any way of relieving this pressure is welcome.
Lead Nurse, Hannah Clarke, says it’s been a busy winter. "Most of the time, people are waiting longer than 12 hours for a bed now. But waits can range up to 30 hours and people are often in A&E for a day before they go to a ward," she adds.
The service is a partnership between Barts Health NHS Trust, the London Ambulance Service and London’s Air Ambulance Charity. So as well as NHS funding - it relies, in part, on donations.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...