The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is calling for increased community health and social care provision across Norfolk and Waveney to help alleviate “significant pressure” on NHS urgent and emergency care.

It comes following a review by the CQC into how urgent and emergency care works together across the area, including 20 inspections covering various hospitals, GP surgeries, adult social care and the 111 service.

The report, which included the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, found staff shortages at GP practices and in adult social care meant people were accessing urgent and emergency care at hospitals instead, in turn, creating lengthy waits for assessment and treatment, with a high number of patients waiting more than 12 hours in emergency departments, resulting in overcrowding.

This was despite many services in Norfolk and Waveney being individually well-run, inspectors said, providing safe care and effective treatment for people.

Mandy Williams, CQC director of integrated care, inequalities and improvement, said: “Many of the services we inspected as part of this review were providing good care that met people’s needs and ensured their safety.

“Although the emergency departments we visited were well-run, a high number of people waited over 12 hours for assessment and treatment. This led to overcrowded departments, delayed ambulance handovers and risk to patients.

“A significant issue behind this was staff shortages affecting other services people used when they had less pressing medical needs. This meant people couldn’t always access their GP, dentist or NHS 111 service when they needed – resulting in unnecessary 999 call or visits to hospital when minor ailments became unmanageable.”

The report also found staff shortages in adult social care meant people remained in hospital when they should have been discharged to respite services, leading to delays due to insufficient beds.

Healthcare leaders were praised for developing strategies to alleviate pressure, such as GP provision alongside emergency departments, so patients which could be dealt with by GPs were immediately referred, reducing the number of people using emergency care by up to a third.   

“However – despite these initiatives and the examples of good practice we saw at individual services – system-wide workforce planning, and increased community health and social care provision is required to meet local people’s needs,” she added.

“If delivered successfully, this would reduce pressure on urgent and emergency care services and reduce the risk of harm to people living in Norfolk and Waveney.”