Health · Home life · Notes from West London

Urgent Care

At some point in the last 40 years the Casualty departments in UK hospitals were renamed as Accident and Emergency (or A&E). In the US A&E is known as ER (the Emergency Room). “Casualty” is a BBC1 series set in a hospital, broadcast on Saturday nights after “Strictly Come Dancing”. I have never seen a whole episode of it, but my wife and I were keen watchers of “ER”, the American drama set in Chicago’s County General Hospital, and watched whole series of it, right up to the final episodes (screened in 2009). From watching the show we learnt, among other things, that MVC (“Multiple Vehicle Collision”) is preferred to MVA (“Multiple Vehicle Accident”) to describe a crash involving many vehicles.

As a family we are fortunate enough to have spent very little time in A&E departments. My last injury requiring a visit was back in 2006, after trying to deal with some broken glass in a bin: a deep cut in my left hand which needed a couple of stitches. It was all sorted in an hour or two.

It’s been so long since we needed to visit A&E, and there have been so many changes (planned or actual) to our local hospitals, that I wasn’t sure where to go to have my left hand looked at last week. I came off my bike in a local park three weeks ago, bumped my knee and scraped the skin off both hands, nothing serious, but after a week the fingers in my left hand had started to hurt. Lots of day-to-day movements were more painful, especially changing gear and using the handbrake when driving. (We use our left hands for such things in this country.) Maybe it was more than a bump and a bruise. Had I broken a bone or two after all?

Last Friday I went to have it checked at Hammersmith Hospital (next to Wormwood Scrubs prison) and found that they no longer have an A&E department. They have an “Urgent Care” unit instead, something I had never heard of. It turns out that it’s designed for cases like mine, the walking wounded who need to see a doctor sooner than they might be able to see their own GP, or who need an x-ray to check for broken bones. I arrived at the hospital armed with enough puzzles and reading material to keep me occupied for several hours if necessary. I was prepared for a long wait in case there were people who needed to be seen more urgently (the result, perhaps, of some MVC nearby). What I have learnt is that anyone requiring proper emergency treatment (rather than “Urgent Care”) would be sent elsewhere (to Charing Cross, Ealing or St Mary’s Paddington). I had, unknown to me, gone to the most suitable place in the area for my needs. There is no A&E at Hammersmith Hospital any more. In the space of under two hours I was checked in, seen by a doctor, sent for an x-ray and seen by the doctor again to confirm the result of the x-ray (no broken bones, some “soft tissue trauma”, as I noted in last weekend’s piece about typing one-handed).

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I have been sharing this newly-acquired knowledge about the difference between Urgent Care and A&E with everyone I’ve spoken to. It might be useful information for you too. The time may come when you too need Urgent Care rather than A&E. If so, I hope your experience is as straightforward and reassuring as mine was.



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