A NEW urgent care facility for the “walking wounded” is taking the load off Hereford County Hospital’s overstretched A&E nurses and at-capacity wards.

The Clinical Assessment Unit (CAU), set up adjacent to A&E in December, assesses at-risk patients, tests and treats them in an average of five hours.

Andy Milestone, clinical lead at the unit, said: “The GP’s in this area have been crying out for this kind of unit.

“There have been improvements in patient flow, and a palpable feeling among nurses that this unit is taking pressure off A&E admission.”

It is designed to cater for the ‘walking wounded’ who could become seriously ill if not treated straight away, added Dr Milestone.

Since opening in December 2013 the ambulatory care service has seen average admissions double, rising from 4.8 per day in December to 11.3 in March.

Since April it has become fully operational, working alongside consultants from an extensive range of the hospital’s departments.

However because of its reliance on consultants, the service is only accessible during daytime hours.

Dr Milestone said: “It’s a dynamic service – and we are always looking at ways to expand it.”

Currently 71 percent of patients who stay at the County for less than a day pass through the unit, almost half of whom are back out within four hours.

And the unit is seen by the Wye Valley Trust as crucial to helping it manage beds during the winter, when demand spikes.

Along with the Virtual Wards service – which, launched in October, aims to provide hospital care at home – the Trust is looking to cut down on unnecessary admissions.

At the Trust’s annual general meeting in Hereford last week, it announced that the hospital saw a three per cent increase in A&E admittance.

Neil Doverty, WVT’s chief operating officer, said: “It is very clear that the inappropriate use of primary care is important.

“It is terribly important that we convey the message that everyone in Herefordshire understands that A&E is for life-threatening situations.”

It is a problem that has knock-on effects to both the service, and the Trust’s bottom line.

Caring for an aging county with the fourth lowest population density in England, the Trust will be “severely challenged” to make its budget balance said Howard Oddy, its director of finance.

For four straight years WVT has required bailouts from the Trust Development Authority, last year needing £9m to balance the books.

Mr Oddy said: “Unless we transform as an organisation we will continue to make a deficit.”