The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, today visited the Direct Assessment Unit (DAU) at Antrim Area Hospital and welcomed the new pathway available for frail elderly patients.

The Unit opened as a pilot in 2012 but has expanded to accept GP referrals for frail elderly people who require a Comprehensive Geriatric Assessment. As well as referring patients for treatment, GPs can also speak directly to medical staff for advice and support. The new pathway provides an alternative to the Emergency Department, avoids unnecessary waits and ensures patients are treated in the most suitable place to get the care they need.

The Commissioner, Eddie Lynch, commented: "I was pleased to be invited to visit Antrim Area Hospital's Emergency Department to learn more about the expanded Direct Assessment Unit, which has improved the experience of frail elderly patients."

"As Commissioner, I am aware that many older people can be anxious about going to hospital due to fears over waiting times. I welcome the Northern Trust taking this positive step to address pressures in the system. GPs and the Ambulance Service can now directly refer elderly patients to the Direct Assessment Unit, allowing them to avoid unnecessary waits and receive the care they need."

"During my term of office, I will watch with interest the developments like this direct assessment unit that the HSC system are putting in place to make the lives of older people and their carers easier. I want to see further improvements to the care older people receive. Older people deserve to know that when they fall ill, they will receive good quality care where they need it and when they need it."

The Direct Assessment Unit also accepts referrals from general medicine, nephrology, cardiology and diabetes patients and can take referrals, where appropriate, from the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service. The Early Intervention Team, which includes physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers, also provide any necessary support to assist in quicker assessment and treatment times.

Dr Shaahid Valley, Clinical Lead for the Direct Assessment Unit, said: "We were delighted to welcome the Commissioner to the Unit to highlight the alternative pathways for older people which provide them with a better patient experience.

"The Direct Assessment Unit was developed in partnership with GPs and feedback from patients and GPs has been very positive. We would encourage all GPs to make use of the unit and the different pathways available to help us treat patients in the most appropriate place."

The Direct Assessment Unit is open from 9am until 8pm (patients arriving before 6.00pm) Monday to Friday. GPs can contact the Unit for advice and support on 028 7034 6364.

The DAU is part of a wider programme of modernisation and reform by the Northern Trust to develop alternative pathways into hospital and to improve care for all patients and service users.

The Commissioner also made a visit to the Rapid Assessment Interface and Discharge (RAID) team who work with the Direct Assessment Unit to provide specialist mental health assessment to patients. Through early intervention and detection of delirium, depression and dementia, particularly experienced in old age, the team supports early recovery.