A poll commissioned by patient watchdog Healthwatch England has revealed that almost one in five patients in England have misused Accident and Emergency departments. The survey of over 1,700 people found that 18% owned up to visiting A&E when they needed non-emergency care outside of normal GP opening hours.
The survey also showed a widespread lack of awareness about the other options available. About a third of those who responded said they did not know where their nearest minor injury unit or walk-in centre was, while just one in five said they had used the non-emergency number 111 and NHS Direct when in need. Nevertheless, the survey did show that two-thirds of patients were worried about the pressures on the system.
Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch England, said:
“A&E has become NHS Express. The problem is it was never designed to be a catch-all service and nor should it be allowed to become one. But blaming people for going to the ‘wrong place’ when we need care and support is the wrong way of looking at the problem.”
“I’m not absolving us of our responsibility not to clog A&E whenever we get the sniffles, but until the health and care sector offers a more consumer-friendly experience, things are unlikely to improve.”
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said:
“The NHS drastically needs to improve the out-of-hours care to ensure patients in acute emergencies are able to receive the high quality of care that A&E departments provide. Until then people will turn up at A&E in desperation with everyday medical problems.”
The release of the survey comes as MPs call for emergency care doctors to be paid more to work at struggling hospitals.