A&E is a widely known service provided by the NHS in hospitals. But is there a private alternative to A&E? What is it? And is it worth it?
What is A&E?
The A&E department, meaning accident and emergency is also referred to as the emergency department or casualty. The department deals with severe and less severe injuries and illnesses, and you can just walk in.
The life-threatening emergencies that will be dealt with by the A&E department are:
- Breathing difficulties
- Severe and persistent bleeding
- Loss of consciousness
- Severe and persistent chest pain
- Severe burns or scalds
- Severe allergic reactions
- An acute confused state and persistent fits
The department of A&E offers access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The staff found working in an A&E department include paramedics, A&E nurses, diagnostic radiographers, A&E reception staff, porters, healthcare assistants and emergency medicine doctors. Obviously, these members of staff are highly trained and are experts in emergency medicine.
Please be aware that A&E is not an alternative to getting an appointment with your GP. If your GP practice is closed and you require medical assistance that is not necessarily an emergency, you can call NHS 111. This is a relatively new service, which will direct you to the best local service to treat your injury or illness. You can also consider visiting an NHS walk-in centre (WIC), which will also treat minor illnesses without an appointment.
The triage system at A&E
The French word triage translates to ‘to sort’ or ‘to choose’. Triage is a system by which priorities are set for treatments for a patient or a group of A&E patients.
This sorting of patient’s categories based on priority is carried out by an experienced registered nurse. Systemic and scientific methods are used to help to assess all the patients’ conditions. This is done to be able to interpret the clinical features to exercise interventions in the early phase to prevent deterioration of health and the risk of death.
Due to the existence of the triage system, emergency patients will be given immediate treatment, meanwhile those who have non-acute symptoms will be seen as less of a priority, even if they have been waiting a much longer period of time to be seen.
Upon arrival, you will be assessed by an experienced and trained triage nurse on the severity of your problem, illness or injury to then put you somewhere in the priority list.
The categories of the triage system are:
What about a private A&E?
As you are aware, A&E is a service provided by the NHS and is therefore a free service which is positive. However, because it is free and open to anyone, the volumes of people who will be waiting at any one time can be overwhelming and frustrating when wanting to be seen.
Alternatives such as the Urgent Care Centre offer a different kind of experience to that of visiting an NHS A&E department. While alternatives such as this are not free, they offer things such as much shorter waiting times opposed to the potentially long waits experienced at A&E. They also offer direct referrals to top consultants and on-site administration of treatment. It may be an idea to enquire about “private A&E” as they offer a quicker service with a lot more benefits on the side, such as a nicer and quieter environment to wait and be seen in.
However, please keep in mind that with private walk-in in care centres, you are not entitled to an ambulance service. You will have to make your own way there as the ambulance services are affiliated to the NHS A&E. Furthermore, private care centres are not usually open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Nevertheless, these things should not be a problem for minor cases of illness or injury. If you were in critical medical danger you would be put at the top of the list for the NHS A&E anyway, so it is good to have the option of both available to you. If you are in need of medical attention at 1am, for example, you are still free to visit an A&E department – it does not have to be one or the other.
For more information on a private health care plan, click here.