NEW emergency units could be built at Oxfordshire’s community hospitals thanks to a £18m cash boost.

The money is to improve medical treatment of elderly and mentally ill people across the county.

The Department of Health announced a £9m funding boost yesterday.

The £9m was match-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to kickstart a series of projects across the county, to be adminstered by the Oxford NIHR Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC).

The cash means a pilot scheme of Emergency Inter-disciplinary Units (EIUs) which started in Abingdon could spread to Oxford, Witney and Banbury.

The EIUs are units based in hospitals that deal with serious medical emergencies but not heart attacks or strokes.

Oxford University senior researcher, Dr Dan Lasserson, leads the project to open EIUs across Oxfordshire.

He said: “In EIUs we can get blood test or X-ray results a lot quicker than in hospitals and we have various medical staff and physiotherapists on hand.

“Abingdon Community Hospital’s EIU is unique in what it offers – Oxfordshire is leading the way in terms of this provision.

“We are trying this and if it is cost-effective it could be rolled out not just across Oxfordshire but the country.”

Although EIUs don’t turn anyone away, they are mainly aimed at elderly people.

Dr Lasserson said: “There are an increasing number of unwell older patients and it is important to meet their needs.

“Although we will see anyone, it is mainly the elderly who we treat.

“A lot of older patients can get quite confused in hospital because it is a very unfamiliar environment – they feel a lot more comfortable in their own home.

“It is frightening for them in hospital.”

Since opening on November 2, 2010, the Abingdon Community Hospital’s EIU has had 5,568 patient visits.

One of the new EIUs would be based at Witney Community Hospital and could open in six months.

The Banbury unit would probably be at the Horton General Hospital and the Oxford unit based at the John Radcliffe.

The £18m will also be used to help people suffering from conditions including dementia, bipolar disorder and diabetes.

Another scheme aims to teach patients to understand their condition, how to self-medicate and monitor their health using technology like tablet computers.

A clinical trial run by Oxford professor Richard McManus found patients with mental health conditions were less likely to relapse if they were taught to self-treat.

Prof John Geddes, of the Warneford Hospital, Headington, said: “Oxford brings in an enormous amount of research, but we haven’t had as much research into chronic conditions. And that research will be translated into the local health system.

“It is going to be a major way of making sure the science in Oxford gets implemented for the benefit of patients. It is another part of the jigsaw in bringing together the benefits of research for patients and staff in the area.”