A&E capacity unlocked by ‘talk before you walk” technology

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 22-May-2023

Calls from paramedics to consultants answered in under 12 seconds with Consultant Connect’s Same Day Emergency Care link enhances urgent care support

A health tech communications service connecting paramedics to consultants and Same Day Emergency Care (SDEC) specialists is easing the strain on NHS A&E departments. 

Consultant Connect is used by two in three UK ambulance trusts in areas including the West Midlands, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and South East London; Tayside and Lanarkshire in Scotland; and the whole of Wales.  

Once paramedics have seen patients, they can speak to consultants in units including SDEC, frailty, GP out-of-hours, and acute medicine. And the advice and guidance service – dubbed ‘talk before you walk’ – helps smooth patient flow through the healthcare system.

Consultant Connect also helps paramedics quickly contact the pre-alert team which allows A&E, or another clinical area, to prepare appropriately.   

More than 93,000 calls were placed by paramedics to consultants between January and June last year, with calls answered in under 12 seconds on average using the technology. 

This technology has reduced unnecessary delays due to the rapid access to senior expert specialists

One in three of those calls resulted in the patient avoiding an unnecessary hospital visit, releasing capacity for A&E wards. 

And patients who were admitted to hospital often avoided A&E by being conveyed directly to the right department because of the consultant’s advice. 

Relieving the pressure

Avoiding unneeded A&E visits has never been more vital as delays in offloading patients to busy A&E wards led to all ambulance services in England being put on the highest alert level last July. 

SDEC was launched by the NHS in May 2021 to treat patients who need hospital care, but do not need to stay overnight, thereby reducing pressure on A&E wards.

Consultant Connect now provides 20 NHS areas with a fast and streamlined communications route to SDEC units. 

Consultant Connect’s SDEC line had three times the number of calls last June as in the same month in 2021 and nearly half of calls resulted in the patient avoiding A&E when they otherwise would have been admitted.  

Jonathan Will, a paramedic and national improvement advisor for NHS Scotland, said: “Historically, paramedics had two options when arriving to see a patient; to see, treat, and discharge a patient on the scene, or take them to hospital. 

“Professional-to-professional systems like Consultant Connect make it possible for paramedics to receive specialist advice while they are with the patients – helping the patient to receive better care and saving hospitals vital capacity.” 

Rapid access to specialist care

Dr Roshan Navin, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust clinical lead for acute medicine and SDEC, added: “This technology has reduced unnecessary delays due to the rapid access to senior expert specialists.

We can’t solve the crisis in A&E, but we can play our part in easing the pressures

“The specialist advice also results in patients being treated out of hospital where appropriate.”

And Jonathan Patrick, chief executive of Consultant Connect, comments: “Patients taken to hospital by ambulance crews often end up queuing to get into over-run A&E departments. And the knock-on effect of ambulances being held up is a lack of ambulances for other patients who have called 999. 

“Our service helps patients to get the care they need without going to hospital if it’s possible.

“Consultant Connect also acts as a triaging service, meaning patients can bypass the queue at A&E and go straight to SDEC or another appropriate ward.

“We can’t solve the crisis in A&E, but we can play our part in easing the pressures.”

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