Completion of new unit that’s transforming emergency care

Jo Churchill, MP, opens the new assessment unit

The new state-of-the-art acute assessment unit at the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust was officially opened by Jo Churchill, MP.

This dynamic unit has been helping the West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds to transform how emergency patients are assessed and treated.

It is designed to support emergency patients and GP referrals that need observation, diagnosis and treatment, but who don’t need major emergency department care – for example, patients with chest pain who may need a heart monitor and clinical observation.

Built behind the hospital’s emergency department, phase one of the AAU opened to the public in December 2018; phase two opened to the public in September 2019. The latest, exciting developments include the expansion of the ambulatory emergency care (AEC) space and the monitored bay. It also has its own dedicated ambulance entrance.


The goal is to assess patients quickly; the AEC will diagnose the patient’s condition, and wherever possible identify those that can be safely treated on the same day so they can return home with the help they need, like take-away medications.

Those patients being looked after in the AAU or monitored bay, who do need ongoing care in hospital can then be transferred to the right, specialist ward for their needs first time. This is supporting patient flow through the hospital, helping to reduce admissions, and improving the patient experience.

Charge nurse Marc Littlejohn, centre, explains the patient pathway to Jo Churchill, MP and chief executive Stephen Dunn

Since it first opened the unit has received 9,710 AAU patient admissions and 3,275 AEC patient attendances (Dec ’18 to Aug ’19).

The AAU space is open 24/7 and contains 18 assessment and five monitored trolleys, while the AEC is open daily with 11 specialist chairs instead of hospital beds.

It is helping to ease pressure on the emergency department – leaving it to care for those with major conditions or minor injuries that can be treated quickly.

In the future, the Trust has ambition to implement a surgical AEC in the unit to support patients who need minor procedures or who need monitoring and assessment by the surgical team. This may also include a virtual telephone follow up service for those patients who have had a surgical intervention.

Chief executive Stephen Dunn, CBE, said: “It is fantastic that we have completed the entire unit which is already helping to ease pressure on the emergency department and will support demand as we head into winter.

“It is modernising the way that we care for our emergency patients and helping to ensure they get the right care they need first time. We are grateful for the government funding support we had towards it and staff have been brilliant in terms of developing this new facility. People have quicker access to specialists when they need them, and can get the diagnosis and treatment they need to go home rather than stay in hospital.

“Prolonged hospital stay and bed rest can lead to loss of muscle power, strength and abilities in patients of any age, so we aim to get our patients who are well enough to return home as soon as possible when it is appropriate, as it’s best for them and their recovery.”

Opening the unit, Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: “It was fantastic to open the wonderful new AAU department at West Suffolk Hospital today. This state of the art unit will ensure patients receive the right care, at the right time and in the right place, helping to relieve pressure from the busy emergency department. It is an amazing facility and I would like to congratulate all those involved in making it happen. I will continue to work hard to for our hospital – ensuring we have a growing hospital fit for a future growing community.”

Patients attending the AAU will be seen by a multi-disciplinary team, from consultants and nurses to assistant nurse practitioners and physician associates. They each have quick and easy access to other services like diagnostics – meaning patients should have their diagnosis and treatment much faster than in the traditional emergency department set-up.

The expanded ambulatory emergency care space at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

Medical director at WSFT, Dr Nick Jenkins, added: “It’s great that we now have a larger space for both the monitoring bay and ambulatory emergency care space in order to see more patients and ideally get them home on the same day. The acute assessment part of the unit has been working well, taking pressure off the emergency department and ensuring we can better transfer our patients to the right specialist care, should they need to stay in hospital.

“This kind of service is only possible when a wide range of teams come together. The unit is a busy one and is treating patients with a huge range of conditions and illnesses, who all have different needs. Staff within the unit have a variety of clinical skills to make sure we’re supporting each patient.”


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