Beginning in 2014, people needing emergency medical treatment will be required to call the local A&E to have their condition assessed over the phone before they are permitted to head to a hospital, according to an agreement between the government and Danske Regioner, the national association of regional councils.
Known as a “referral plan”, the system is the most effective way to reduce A&E waiting times, according a recently released report by the Health Ministry’s the emergency committee.
The health minister, Astrid Kragh (Socialistisk Folkeparti), expressed her support for the mandatory referral plan.
“I am very happy that by the spring of 2014 everyone will be required to call before they show up at the emergency room,” Kragh told Berlingske newspaper.
The referral plan will allow doctors to determine whether people need emergency care or if they can wait to see their general practitioner.
Kragh said this filtering process will reduce the waiting time for those needing emergency care. Recent reports had some patients with minor injuries waiting for over twelve hours to be treated.
Most health care regions already have voluntary acute hotlines that operate on the same principle. The voluntary hotline in the Greater Copenhagen health region has been in place since January and receives over 600 calls per day. Calls to the acute line are answered by specially trained nurses who give people advice if they are injured or sick.
Officials on the Greater Copenhagen regional council are not completely sold on the concept of mandatory calling.
“You can tell people that they must call the emergency phone before they come, but if they just show up it is hard to turn them away,” Kirsten Lee (Radikale) told Berlingske newspaper. Despite her reservations, Lee said that hospitals in the region would start informing the public of the new requirements this autumn.
Kragh emphasised that any patient brought to a hospital requiring emergency treatment will receive care, regardless of whether they had called or not.
The long term goal of the referral plan is to allow people with minor injuries to wait for treatment at home, instead of at the emergency room. A smartphone app would let patients know the length of the waiting time and when to go to the hospital.
The government and the various medical and patients’ rights groups are still at odds over just how long is too long for patients to wait for emergency room service.
During the 2011 election campaign, the current government made pledge to keep A&E waits to under 30 minutes, but dropped it after the election saying that they it “miscalculated”.