Half of A&E patients do not require treatment

ALMOST half of patients who attend A&E in England do not need medical treatment, according to a new report.

One third (34 per cent) are given advice, while a further 12.8 per cent need neither advice nor treatment.

Emergency departments dealt with 21.7 million attendances in 2012/13 – the equivalent of 60,000 per day. This represents an 11 per cent increase since 2008/09, while the English population has grown by only 3.2 per cent over the same period.

The figures were revealed in a report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), Focus on Accident and Emergency, December 2013.

It shows 63 per cent of minor unit attendees were under 40, up from 59 per cent in 2008/09. Twelve in every 100 attendees were over 64 (down from 14).

In major units, 54 per cent of patients were under 40 (down from 57 in 2008/09, while 21 per cent were aged over 64 (up from 19).

Around one fifth of A&E patients are admitted to hospital, rising to almost half of over 64s (from 2009-10 onwards).

The majority of attendances are between 9am and 6pm, with 13 out of every 20 patients referring themselves. Only one in 20 are referred by a GP.

Professor Keith Willett, Director for Acute Episodes of Care at NHS England, acknowledged A&E services are under increasing pressure, and yet 95 per cent of people are seen and treated within four hours of arrival.

But he added: “We know that too many people are attending major A&E units when they could have received advice or treatment equally well outside hospitals, from GPs or at urgent care centres, from paramedics or from pharmacists, had those options been more available.

“We know that systemic change is needed across our urgent and emergency care system, so that all aspects of the health and social care system from major illness, trauma and mental health crisis, through to minor ailments and the management of long-term conditions, do work together to get the best and most appropriate help to people first time.”

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker defended the role of GPs in preventing unnecessary A&E attendances.

She said: “We recognise the struggle that patients are facing in trying to get an appointment with their family doctor, but to blame GPs for avoidable A&E visits is inaccurate, misguided and unfair.

"GPs are working harder and longer than ever before as we try to do more for our patients but with declining budgets.”

She called for general practice to receive a greater proportion of the NHS budget, to rise from eight per cent to 11 per cent by 2017.

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