Emergency department capacity management: guidance

Guidance on developing a standard operating procedure to manage capacity and avoid crowding in the emergency departments.

6. Tips for implementation

These tips for implementation are based on learning from implementation across NHSScotland. The Scottish Government recognises that they represent good practice in guidance implementation and recommends their use by NHS boards.

1. Working group
The first step should be to form a short-life working group. This will help focus direction and momentum and provide a forum for engagement and a sense of shared ownership of ED crowding.

2. Senior leadership
Strong senior leadership is essential for agreeing and leading development of the standard operating procedure. This should include chief executive, clinical leaders, managers and directors, providing strong senior leadership and support for the work.

3. Clinical engagement
It is vital that clinical staff are fully engaged. Clinical leads from across all areas of the organisation should be members of the working group, ensuring that progress is clinically led and understood across the whole hospital.

4. Test and measure
Measures for eliminating crowding need to be agreed and tested at local level. Having a quality improvement lead working alongside a clinical lead helps ensure a robust process for tracking and measuring cycles of change and testing measures, local definitions and trigger points.

5. The 6 Essential Actions to Improving Unscheduled Care
Successfully eliminating crowding relies on wider work across the system to improve unscheduled care. It is crucial that this work does not sit in isolation, but is considered within the context of the 6 Essential Actions, particularly in relation to daily site management and effective discharge planning.

6. Clinically agreed local definitions
There must be agreed clear definitions of what "crowding" and "overcapacity" means locally, clearing any misconceptions staff may have held prior to the work commencing. Defining terms helps provide a structured framework for eliminating crowding at an early stage, before the department reaches full capacity.

7. Clear decision matrices
Clear decision matrices with defined routes of action and accountability in each department and aligned across the whole site should be in place for occasions in which escalation is triggered. Escalation steps should be agreed at executive director, management and clinical levels.

8. Clinical responsibility
To ensure patients are kept as safe as possible at all times, it is vital that clinical responsibility for individual patients when handing over is clearly understood. Strong clinical leadership and engagement should help support these discussions.

9. Implementing stage 3
A recommendation to enact a full-capacity protocol should only be made after the ED lead nurse and doctor have discussed the situation in detail with the site director, lead nurse and lead doctor or on-call manager who, in turn, will require the chief executive/medical director or formal deputy (on-call director or deputy) to authorise any patient movement out of the ED to a full ward.

This action, or any variation of a full-capacity protocol, is considered an exceptional response to untoward and unexpected circumstance to an immediate level 5 adverse event review.


Email: Alistair Pollock, Alistair.Pollock@Gov.Scot

Back to top