HOSPITAL chiefs probing a spike in Swindon A&E attendances suspect a handful of GP surgeries could be responsible for rising admissions.

Executives at Great Western Hospital stepped short of specifying which surgeries were behind the rise. However, the Adver understands they include a number of practices formerly linked to IMH, the Manchester-based company.

Figures show April this year was one of the busiest on record at Great Western Hospital, with 7,067 people coming through the doors of the emergency department. In the previous month, 7,314 people attended A&E – the busiest month in the past four years.

Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and GWH are looking into why admission rates at A&E have been so high.

Analysis is yet to be finished, but GWH chief operating officer Jim O’Connell told a meeting of the hospital’s board of directors this month that numbers of A&E attendees from some GP practices had jumped by 15 to 20 per cent.

Mr O’Connell said: “There were some GP practices and clusters of GP practices where the demand was particularly high.

“Some of it was to do with capacity at those GP practices. Some of it was whether they’re coming by ambulance yet and whether they’ve gone through [non-emergency line] 111.”

Chief executive Nerissa Vaughan added her own warning: “It’s different to previous years. I think that’s the concerning bit, because a 15 per cent increase. That’s really significant in April and May. We’ve got to get underneath it.”

The conclusions from the joint CCG and GWH paper are expected later in the summer.

The work comes as NHS bosses moved to support five Swindon GP practices that, until earlier this month, had been linked to private company IMH. The firm announced on May 29 it would be leaving Swindon, after months of complaints from patients, the CCG and the regulator.

IMH had introduced a central hub last autumn, responsible for triaging patient calls to all five surgeries in the company's new Swindon primary care network. Patients complained of waiting more than an hour on hold while they tried to book a GP appointment.

The CCG admitted last November it had seen more people attending A&E as a result of the appointment delays, with executive nurse Gill May telling NHS governors the introduction of the new hub had proved to be a “tremendously bumpy ride”.

In a letter to patients this week, CCG chief Nikki Millin apologised for poor communication in recent months: "There have been plenty of lessons for us to learn over the last year or so, and I’d like to use these experiences in a constructive way to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated."