Medical experts in the North East have welcomed radical proposals to change the way that emergency services are provided.
A major review of the NHS has concluded that a two-tier A&E should be created to ease pressure on an “emergency service at its limit”.
Leaders here say the region is already leading the way and Northumberland’s newest hospital will deliver exactly this sort of care.
NHS medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh said the current system is under “intense, growing and unsustainable pressure” caused by increasing numbers of people turning to A&E, an ageing population and “confusion” over existing services.
For those who do need to go to hospital for emergency treatment, he said two types of A&E should be created - emergency centres for assessing patients and starting treatment, and major emergency centres providing specialist care, such as for strokes or heart attacks.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is currently building a new specialist emergency care hospital at Cramlington, dedicated to dealing with patients needing urgent treatment.
Emergency care consultants will be working 24/7 providing a service for the 500,000 population of North Tyneside and Northumberland when the premises opens in 18 months time.
Yesterday, experts at the Trust were delighted with the review and said the North East was helping to lead the way in future delivery of emergency treatment.
Prof Keogh’s report calls for an overhaul of the system in England to treat more people in their own homes and keep them out of A&E.
He insisted the changes were not about closing local A&E departments, but about creating a safe service that could cope with increasing demand.
Under the Northumbria Healthcare plans, North Tyneside, Wansbeck and Hexham general hospitals will become centres of excellence for planned operations, diagnostics, cancer care and outpatients.
David Evans, medical director at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, has been involved in giving expert views for the Prof Keogh report.
He said: “It is a very good document and it will start to make a difference, that has been quite overdue. The really good thing about the report is that it is not just about hospitals but about the whole way people access urgent care, and supporting people to get the right care and closer to home.
“We started talking about the new emergency care hospital as much as 12 years ago, but it takes a long, long time to get things into place.
“The new emergency care hospital in Cramlington puts us in a good position to deliver services that are in-keeping with the report.”
The report also proposes bringing together the current range of walk-in centres, urgent care centres and minor injury units under one banner name - urgent care centres.
This is to avoid the confusion over where to go for help, which leaves substantial numbers of patients heading to A&E.
The plans would see between 70 and 100 emergency centres developed in hospitals, alongside 40 to 70 major emergency care centres.
The emergency centres would assess and start treatment for patients, arranging transfer to more specialist centres if needed.
Major emergency centres would be larger units, capable of assessing and starting treatment for all patients, but also providing specialist care, such as for heart attacks, strokes, paediatrics or major trauma.
Prof Keogh said: “We are here really because A&E is creaking at the seams. It’s not broken but it is struggling.
“In many senses, our A&Es have become victims of their own success because they function as a safety net for people who are worried, frightened, anxious or in pain and therefore have problems that concern them.
“When A&Es become very busy it means other parts of the system are creaking as well, they are under stress.”
The review sets out plans to reorganise care over the next three to five years and said out-of-hours services must become more effective.