WAITING times in A&E at Hinchingbrooke Hospital could be halved by new working practices that make more senior staff available to see emergency patients.

And there are plans to reduce the waiting times even further at the Huntingdon hospital.

Circle Health, the private firm that took over the running of the hospital in February, says it aims to rid Hinchingbrooke of four-hour target times for patients admitted into A&E.

Instead, doctors working in the emergency department will be targeted to see patients within two hours. The scheme, which is now in place, will have much tighter targets than the NHS. Patients should expect to see an assessment nurse within 15 minutes and a senior doctor within two hours, which lead consultant Tom Hughes hopes to get down to one.

Critically-ill patients will see a senior doctor as soon as they arrive at Hinchingbrooke and will be treated by an emergency team made up of a senior doctor, junior doctor, two nurses, and specialists from other wards if needed.

The accident and emergency department will also have priority at other departments, such as X-ray, to allow doctors to make a quick diagnosis and reduce waiting times for patients in hospital.

Mr Hughes told The Hunts Post: “The problem with emergency departments is that some patients are sent to wards when they don’t need to be, especially the elderly, which can have an impact on their health and welfare.

“You see it in the news that hospitals are possibly over treating patients by keeping them in and carrying out extensive tests that maybe they do not need – and that’s where the senior doctors come in.

“We have the experience that the junior doctors don’t. We need to be in a frontline position where we can keep patients from lengthy stays or staying in at all.”

The workings of the emergency department were devised by a team of doctors, nurses and managers along with GPs and Huntingdonshire District Council.

It is already paying dividends, according to Mr Hughes: “Last week I saw a patient whose hip had fallen out of the artificial joint on his way up to a ward.

“I stopped him and took him into one of our wards and popped it back in.

“It saved the patient from being admitted and having an operation, so it helped his own welfare and he was able to go home. It’s about improving patient welfare.”

Senior staff will also be available on weekends – a report by Dr Foster last year showed that mortality rates at NHS hospitals increased with patients admitted during evenings and weekends. Mr Hughes said staff rotas had been changed to have a “consistent service”.

David Monk, operations manager, added that giving patients from the emergency department priority tests would have a financial gain for the hospital.

“The scheme’s going to save the hospital a couple of thousand pounds a patient by saving them from staying in the hospital and we’re looking at stopping five or six of these cases a day,” he said. “We will save in the region of £4.4million a year. Some of that will pay for increased staffing elsewhere to make diagnostic tests readily available but there is still a substantial sum of money that will be saved.”