ACCIDENT and Emergency bosses at Wigan Infirmary fear the department could be overrun this winter as patient numbers hit record highs.
Senior doctors fear patient welfare could be put at risk if A&E continue to see a rise in the number of people attending. Last year a staggering 92,510 patients visited A&E - nearly 2,500 more than in 2011.
Patients have turned up with trivial complaints including bruises, diarrhoea and even common colds.
Critics say a rise in A&E numbers is down to a lack of out-of-hours provision from GPs coupled with the shambolic switch from the NHS Direct helpline to the beleaguered NHS 111 number.
A spokesman for Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) said: “The A&E department at Wigan Infirmary, like many other trusts in the NHS, is facing increasing pressures from patients attending the department.
“We are asking people for their support to make sure that we can give urgent and emergency care to those people who need it most.
“We need the public to think twice and make sure they choose the right service for minor illnesses, ailments and injuries. The public should only attend A&E if they have a serious health condition or in a genuine emergency.”
NHS 111, which was trialled in Wigan earlier this year, has suffered a number of setbacks since its launch which observers say has increased pressure on A&E departments.
Reports of many patients being on hold for more than an hour are commonplace and the Department of Health was warned the new system would lead to an increase in “emergency ambulance incidents” in a report it commissioned from academics at Sheffield University on results from four pilot areas.
Health campaigners say that prediction has become a reality since the system was rolled out nationally in April.
Dr Steve Aspinall, deputy director of operations & performance – medicine said: “Over recent years, the numbers of patients attending A&E is increasing and we continue to see large numbers coming to A&E with less serious conditions that could be treated elsewhere. People can choose to self-treat at home or seek support from local pharmacies, their GP - including the out-of-hours service or NHS Direct. We want to ensure all patients are treated quickly in the best location and A&E is not the right choice for minor conditions. With winter approaching we are appealing to the public to be sensible and use alternatives when possible. If anyone needs advice or treatment during the holiday weekend then please consider all the options available.”
In addition to this, it was recently revealed that Wigan Infirmary would not be getting a share of the Government’s £250m winter health fund aimed at helping A&E departments get through the winter months.
The trust is also carrying out an urgent review into staffing after they refuted BBC claims the A&E was overstaffed, instead saying that the exact opposite is affecting the department and they need more staff.
Dr Mueed Ahmad, consultant, emergency medicine said: “About 30-40 per cent of patients who attend A&E could be seen by a GP. Many patients present with common ailments such as the common cold, diarrhoea and vomiting or minor injuries such as cuts and bruises. These common complaints do not require further investigations or X-rays and therefore could be self-treated.”