Emergency doctors will get a possible first look at the future of NHS care when a groundbreaking new medical facility opens in Northumbria in 2015.
The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital is currently under construction in Cramlington and will be the first hospital in the country dedicated solely to providing emergency care every day of the week.
Part of a £200 million investment programme by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the hospital will have emergency care consultants on site 24 hours a day, as well as employing top specialists covering all other main service areas.
It will encompass a state-of-the-art A&E department, hi-tech diagnostic capabilities, numerous critical care offerings, a short-stay paediatric unit and a consultant and midwifery-led maternity division.
The creation of the facility is set to create an influx of new recruitment and employment opportunities in the region, offering work for around 1,000 people over the course of the two-year build process. It will offer a major boost to the local economy, as well as providing significant health benefits for the 500,000-strong community in Northumberland and North Tyneside.
On a wider level, however, the opening of the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital could be even more significant, as the creation of more facilities of this kind could be an ideal way of addressing the high level of demand currently placed on A&E departments at hospitals around the country.
NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh proposed last year that the development of between 40 and 70 major emergency centres across the UK could be part of the solution to this problem. They would allow seriously ill patients will be seen by an A&E consultant immediately upon arrival at the hospital, before later being assessed by a specialist on their condition.
Locating diagnostics within the emergency care department will allow consultants to get test results quickly, making it easier to start treating patients earlier and more effectively. As such, Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital could be considered a proof of concept, allowing doctors, patients and policymakers alike to assess how well this new model of care provision functions in practice.
Sir Bruce has given a vote of confidence to the Northumberland hospital, having last month attended a topping-out ceremony that involved sealing the roof of the new facility.
He said: "The new hospital here at Cramlington adds momentum to our plans to make a fundamental shift in the provision of urgent care. Separating emergency care in this way will also benefit patients attending Northumbria's general hospitals for planned operations and tests.
"NHS England is the only healthcare system in the world that is trying to sort out the issue of seven-day services. Individual hospitals have done some work on it, but never a national health service - putting the next foot forward now is to ensure that other trusts follow Northumbria's lead."
The high expectations surrounding the new hospital are likely to mean that there will be no shortage of medical staff seeking placements at the facility when it finally opens next year.
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