HOSPITALS are pleading with patients to turn up at accident and emergency only if they are seriously sick – because they fear they will struggle to cope over Christmas.
Chiefs at NHS North West say they have seen a rise in the number of patients turning up at their casualty departments and are concerned that the situation will worsen over the festive period.
They are now asking people to think twice before turning up to prevent genuinely poorly people from having to wait longer.
Traditionally, hospitals see a rise in alcohol-related admissions, including trips and falls, during the party season – as well as “time-wasters” who arrive at A&E instead of going to see their GP with “injuries” such as pet bites, toothache, splinters and hangovers.
Last year one woman turned up at a hospital asking doctors to carve her turkey with surgical saws and a man demanded nurses remove marker pen from his face after a boozy night out.
Mike Cheshire is regional medical director for the North West and said: “We know that over the winter, the number of serious and life-threatening cases will go up if temperatures fall below 12 degrees Celsius. That’s more people with breathing problems, strokes and heart-attacks. What we don’t need at such a busy time, are people calling 999, turning up at A&E or going to their GP when they don’t need to be there.
“It’s not just A&E and 999 teams who feel the pressure over winter. GPs and community nursing teams are a vital part of the care needed by people who return home after having suffering a life-threatening emergency.”
Every attendance at A&E costs the public purse a minimum of £59. In the north west last year, one in 10 attendances were deemed unnecessary – costing on average £21m.
The Department of Health expects hospitals to treat 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours – but the task becomes harder when more patients turn up. Nationally, one in three patients spent more than four hours in A&E - up from 27 per cent in 2008 – between January and March, according to figures released by the Care Quality Commission.
Doctors say that only patients with serious and life-threatening injuries and illnesses should go to A&E – and the rest should either go to their GP, walk-in centre or pharmacy. A&E is to treat symptoms including:
Loss of consciousness;
Persistent, severe chest pain;
Severe bleeding that cannot be stopped;
Acute confusion and fits that are not stopping; and
People with small cuts, sprains, stings and minor burns should not routinely go to A&E.