Targets in the Emergency Department

Podcast – Targets in the Emergency Department (2014)

Welcome to the St Emlyn’s Podcast, your go-to source for the latest insights, developments, and discussions in emergency medicine and critical care, with in-depth analysis, evidence-based practices, and practical advice to enhance your clinical practice and professional development. Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or just starting your journey in the field, our podcast aims to provide valuable knowledge and foster a community of learning and support.

Listening Time – 24:18

Navigating the Challenges and Benefits of Targets in Emergency Medicine

Welcome back to the St. Emlyn’s blog. Today, we’re tackling a topic that’s both crucial and controversial in the UK: the multitude of targets faced by emergency departments (EDs). As many of you know, our emergency services have become world leaders in setting and striving to meet a variety of targets. This podcast explores the impact of these targets.

Understanding the Four-Hour Access Target

The four-hour access target is perhaps the most well-known and influential benchmark in UK emergency medicine. This target mandates that 95% of patients must be admitted, transferred, or discharged within four hours of arrival at the ED. Although some argue that this system forces a “clipboard mentality,” there are substantial benefits.

Historical Context and Improvements

Before the introduction of the four-hour target, UK EDs often experienced chaotic conditions with patients waiting for days. The target has driven significant improvements by making timely patient management a priority across the entire healthcare system. It has led to increased staffing levels and has enhanced the efficiency of associated services, like radiology and laboratory testing, which are critical for patient care.

Benefits of the Four-Hour Target

  1. Improved Patient Flow: The four-hour target encourages EDs to streamline processes, reducing overcrowding and improving overall patient flow.
  2. Increased Staffing: The target has justified the hiring of more staff, including senior consultants, which enhances the quality of care.
  3. Enhanced Diagnostics and Protocols: The pressure to meet the target has fostered innovations in protocols and diagnostics, benefiting patient outcomes.

Challenges and Criticisms

However, the four-hour target is not without its drawbacks. One major issue is the pressure it places on clinicians, potentially leading to rushed or suboptimal decision-making, particularly during peak times when the ED is overwhelmed. This can sometimes result in junior doctors making hasty decisions under pressure.

Other Quality Indicators and Targets

Beyond the four-hour target, UK EDs face a plethora of additional quality indicators, including metrics for:

  • The time it takes to see a senior decision-maker
  • The recording of vital signs upon patient arrival
  • The percentage of patients leaving before being seen

These targets aim to ensure comprehensive and timely care but also add to the administrative burden on clinicians.

Balancing Targets and Clinical Care

Achieving a balance between meeting targets and providing high-quality clinical care requires strong clinical leadership and effective management. It’s crucial that the focus remains on patient care rather than merely ticking boxes. At St. Emlyn’s, we advocate for using targets to enhance clinical processes rather than allowing them to dictate every action.

Financial Penalties and National Standards

In recent years, new targets linked to financial penalties have been introduced. For example, failing to complete VT risk assessments or properly signposting psychological services can result in financial consequences for hospitals. These measures, while well-intentioned, further complicate the landscape of clinical priorities and administrative tasks.

The Role of Clinical Leadership

Effective clinical leadership is vital in navigating these challenges. Leaders must prioritize direct patient care while managing the increasing number of bureaucratic processes. It’s essential to prevent the overburdening of clinicians with administrative tasks, ensuring they can focus on what matters most: the patients.

Trauma Team Targets

Recently, trauma team targets have been established, such as the requirement for a consultant to see major trauma patients within five minutes of arrival and for these patients to reach CT within 30 minutes. While these targets aim to standardize care and improve outcomes, they can be challenging to meet consistently, especially for cases that do not follow the typical major trauma profile.

Real-World Implications

For instance, elderly patients who suffer injuries but present later with complications might not meet the consultant within the stipulated five minutes, potentially resulting in penalties despite receiving appropriate care. Additionally, the 30-minute CT target can push teams to rush procedures, which might compromise safety.

Learning from Experience

The UK healthcare system has learned valuable lessons from past experiences, such as the mid-staff inquiry, emphasizing the importance of clinical judgment over rigid adherence to targets. The goal is to use targets to support and improve patient care rather than let them drive clinical decisions.

Future Directions

Looking forward, increasing the number of consultants and ensuring they are actively involved in patient care decisions will be critical. This shift will help balance the need to meet targets with the imperative to provide high-quality, individualized patient care.

Conclusion: A Thought-Provoking Discussion

The discussion around targets in emergency medicine is complex and multifaceted. While they bring about improvements in efficiency and care standards, they also introduce significant challenges. At St. Emlyn’s, we believe that with wise and flexible application, targets can be a powerful tool to enhance clinical care.

Your Thoughts?

We’d love to hear how targets impact your practice. Do they help you deliver better care, or do they create more hurdles than they’re worth? Share your experiences with us, and let’s continue this important conversation.

For more insights and discussions, keep following the St. Emlyn’s blog. Your feedback is invaluable to us as we navigate the ever-evolving landscape of emergency medicine together.

Podcast Transcription

Where to listen

You can listen to our podcast in numerous ways, ensuring you never miss an episode no matter where you are or what device you’re using. For the traditionalists, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts offer easy access with seamless integration across all your Apple or Android devices. Spotify and Amazon Music are perfect for those who like to mix their tunes with their talks, providing a rich listening experience. If you prefer a more curated approach, platforms like Podchaser and TuneIn specialize in personalising content to your tastes. For those on the go, Overcast and Pocket Casts offer mobile-friendly features that enhance audio quality and manage playlists effortlessly. Lastly, don’t overlook YouTube for those who appreciate a visual element with their audio content. Choose any of these platforms and enjoy our podcast in a way that suits you best!

Cite this article as: Iain Beardsell, "Podcast – Targets in the Emergency Department (2014)," in St.Emlyn's, July 17, 2014,

Thanks so much for following. Viva la #FOAMed

Scroll to Top