Felixstowe used to have a walk in Minor Injuries Unit, located in Felixstowe General Hospital, itself saved a number of times from the brink of closure by local residents associations and local protests. Felixstowe still has a Minor Injuries Unit – it’s just now almost impossible to access due to the weird and wonderful decision by the NHS authorities that control the Suffolk area to make it appointment only from 1st April this year.
But appointments are a good thing aren’t they? It means you get triaged first and don’t have to wait in a queue once you get there? In theory yes – but this is where the system breaks down. Appointments have to be made through the 111 service who at the moment have no idea the Felixstowe Minor Injuries Unit exists. That’s right – it’s not on their system. Computer says ‘no way’. But if you ring Felixstowe Minor injuries Unit itself you are told they cannot see you without an appointment – and it has to be booked through the 111 service.
Confused? So was I when I was in need of a health care professional over the Easter weekend to assess a small child in a lot of pain with a toenail that had been yanked from its bed in an accident on the beach.
Now it wasn’t a life threatening injury I agree – but it looked a bit nasty and so my first thought was to phone 111 to ask for advice. After 20 minutes of questions they told me I needed to get the toe assessed by professionals. My nearest hospital was Ipswich or Colchester. ‘But I’m in Felixstowe’, I pointed out, ‘We have a minor injuries unit here’. ‘Not on our system’, said the 111 operator.
I decided to phone the hospital myself. ‘Sorry’, they said , ‘We can’t help you unless you have an appointment’. ‘And how do I get one?’ I asked , ‘Through the 111 service’ they replied.
‘But they say you don’t exist!’. ‘Ah yes’, said the nurse, ‘They often say that – you have to give them our number and be persistent’.
So back I go to 111. I answer exactly the same number of questions and get to exactly the same point where Felixstowe is not on their system. ‘I have the number’, I say helpfully, ‘You can ring them’.
‘Oh no I can’t’, replied the operator. ‘I don’t have the authority’.
‘Then who does?’ I ask, getting desperate now. ‘We will get an on call doctor to ring you back’, they say.
10 minutes later a clinician phones – and asks the same set of questions and insists there is no Felixstowe unit on the system. I give her the phone number. She agrees to attempt booking an appointment , which she finally informs me she has done five minutes later.
Now I don’t know about you but this strikes me as absolute madness. The facility is two minutes from my house and it’s taken me an hour of frustration to access it. Fortunately by this time the patient had calmed down and was sucking a lolly and watching Pokémon – but it could have been an altogether different story.
When we finally arrived at our appointment we were seen quickly by some very lovely and competent nurses who agreed that at the moment the system wasn’t working. You’re telling me!
No doubt in a few months time the Unit will be closed completely and the authorities will cite lack of use as the reason.
The Unit is run by Suffolk GP Federation. I think a few choice phone calls/e mails/letters to them, to our MP and to our Town Councillors once they are re-elected might be the order of the day.