Understanding people’s expectations and experience of urgent and emergency care

New report provides insight into urgent and emergency care (UEC) in England

Published: 23rd November 2022

Health Innovation East was commissioned by NHS England to work closely with the general public to better understand their experience and uptake of urgent and emergency care services, including how digital technology and innovation can be used to improve their experiences. 

The programme included a review of existing research into users’ experience of urgent care by our partners at The Patient Experience Library as well as a citizen survey, led by social listening innovator PEP Health. The survey was open between August and September 2022.  

Health Innovation East hosted a series of patient engagement events and interviews in partnership with social-purpose consultancy Traverse to ensure we gather feedback from a broad cross-section of the population we serve across England. 

What is urgent and emergency care? 

Urgent and emergency care (UEC) services perform a critical role in keeping the population healthy. The NHS responds to more than 110 million urgent and emergency calls or visits every year, so it is essential that the system works effectively[1]. For this programme, we used NHS England’s definition of emergency and urgent care: 

Emergency: Life threatening illnesses or accidents which require immediate, intensive treatment. Services that should be accessed in an emergency include ambulance (via 999) and emergency departments. 

Urgent: An illness or injury that requires urgent attention but is not a life-threatening situation. Urgent care services include a phone consultation through the NHS111 Clinical Assessment Service, pharmacy advice, out-of-hours GP appointments, and/or referral to an urgent treatment centre (UTC). If unsure what service is needed, NHS111 can help to assess and direct to the appropriate service/s.

Older woman in secondary care waiting area

What do we mean by social listening?

Overall, PEP Health’s analysis found that UEC patient experience scores are below the average patient experience scores for England, having decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic but with a recovery underway.


It identified significant regional variations, both between and within regions, which continue to increase. It also suggests that patients expect and reward polite, professional and friendly staff who are efficient and effective in the care they give to patients and support them compassionately. In addition, when waiting times grow too long, lowering ‘Fast Access’ scores, overall patient experience also declines. 

A rapid literature review of patient experience in urgent and emergency care (UEC) 

“If patients have a routine appointment with a consultant they have met previously and trust, digital appears to work.” 

The Patient Experience Library conducted a rapid literature review to support this work. Findings were grouped by themes including awareness of services, decision-making, service quality and access/barriers.

Document resource GIF
Read the full report now

You can download the full report now here, or download the different parts separately:

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Listen to the podcasts

Podcast 1: Understanding the methodology 

Listen to the first of the two-part podcast series which introduces the research and shares details on the mixed method approach used. It is available on most podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud and Spotify.

Podcast 2: Discussing the findings

Dr Brin Hodgskiss (NHS England), Debbie Floyd (NHS England) and Jacob Lant (Healthwatch England) discuss some key themes from the research findings that focus on service quality, what makes people happy vs unhappy with services and user-centred design, how systems can improve service design by focusing on the needs of users.

It is available on most podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud and Spotify.

Get involved 

If you want to know more about this programme or how Health Innovation East can help you engage your communities, contact enquiries@healthinnovationeast.co.uk. 

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