The impact of process re-engineering on patient throughput in emergency departments in the UK

Int J Emerg Med. 2008 Sep;1(3):189-92. doi: 10.1007/s12245-008-0055-x. Epub 2008 Sep 24.


Background: The re-engineering of emergency department (ED) processes in the UK since 2002 has produced significant reductions in waiting times.

Aims: We aim to describe the generic themes contributory to this improvement in performance, which has led to progress not yet replicated elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

Methods: We reviewed the Emergency Services Collaborative (ESC) set up by the National Health Service (NHS) Modernisation Agency as well as our own departmental performance in order to identify key themes for discussion. In addition, we reviewed relevant information from the UK Department of Health website. We used the 4-h target of patient passage through the ED as our primary outcome measure.

Results: Early results from the ESC showed improvements, which have been sustained and enhanced since inception. We use our hospital performance figures to demonstrate a pattern of progressive improvement in performance, with 99.1% of all new attenders in 2007-2008 being seen, treated and discharged or admitted within 4 h of presentation to the ED.

Conclusions: The whole systems approach to re-engineering emergency care has led to universal improvements in patient throughput in EDs in the UK. Several of the concepts found to be useful in the NHS are worthy of consideration and adoption by other health care systems. Long waits in the ED are a thing of the past in the UK.