HUNDREDS of Wiganers are visiting A&E up to 50 times a year - and two individuals have visited on nearly 100 separate occasions.
New figures released through a Freedom of Information request found that in the past three years, 375 people attended A&E at Wigan Infirmary between 10 and 50 times and seven individuals attended on nearly 100 separate occasions.
Doctors warned that the issue, while confined to a minority of patients, was adding to the mounting pressures on the system this winter.
And problems were further compounded this week with the closure of Orrell Ward at Wigan Infirmary to new patients following the outbreak of a winter vomiting bug at the hospital.
Any friends and relatives of patients who are exhibiting symptoms are being urged to stay away from the infirmary to minimise the spread of infection.
And such an illness is usually not one that the sufferer would best benefit from going to A&E for.
Following an extremely busy week in which some 220 people a day visited A&E, Wigan Infirmary has struggled to hit waiting time targets and there are fears a spell of bad weather could yet further harm the department.
Chief executive of Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, Andrew Foster, said that the hospital’s A&E had been extremely busy over the past week and that it was down to a lot of patients who had long-term conditions, which take up more time and affect bed capacity.
Mr Foster went on to say that despite it being a historically busy period, there are fears that if cold weather were to hit in coming weeks, A&E may be stretched beyond its limits.
A WWL spokesman said: “Nationally A&Es are coming under increasing pressure as more people live longer and develop long term conditions (that is conditions that cannot be cured, but can be treated and managed), people choose to access services that are not always appropriate, and there is increasing pressure to manage health and social care in a more sustainable way.
“This situation is one that is reflected locally in Wigan. In the borough, we have recognised that there are a significant number of patients who attend A&E frequently and that not everyone who attends A&E needs to use this emergency service – they could be treated elsewhere.
“For example, there are approximately 150 patients who have either attended A&E or the out-patient service at the Hospital 33 times on average in the last 12 months. This is neither a good service for these patients or the best use of resources in a climate where, nationally, there is increasing pressure to save money. Nationally and locally we recognised that the NHS is not sustainable in its current format. The way services are delivered and how patients expect to receive their services needs to change.
“What we do know is that the availability of GP appointments and out of hours services, patients knowledge and understanding of locally available community services, and a reliance on advice from health care professionals for advice (rather than being experts in their own illness) means that sometimes it is easier for patients to come to A&E rather than seek treatment elsewhere.”
The news has raised concerns among patients.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “These figures are of great concern and provide yet more proof that our already overstretched A&E services are being put under increasingly severe strain.
“It needs to be recognised that every inappropriate attendance at the A&E would detract health professionals from attending to the genuine and often life-threatening emergencies,” she added.
She said improving access to GPs could make a big difference - before Christmas, official NHS data showed the number of people waiting longer than a week to be seen by a GP was growing.
Mental health chiefs have also voiced concerns.
Andy Bell, of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “These figures show how vital it is for every hospital with an A&E unit to have 24/7 access to mental health advice and support. Too many people with mental health problems struggle to get the help they need in a crisis.”
A spokeswoman for NHS England said the figures should be seen in context - in England alone there were more than 21 million visits to A&E units last year.
“The figures presented here suggest that the number of people attending A&E frequently is relatively small when considered against the big picture.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said steps were being made to improve access to community care through the launch of a £3.8bn joint pot in April 2015 to encourage the NHS and local government to work together.
A series of 14 pilots are already under way to pioneer new projects.
“We know action is needed to tackle pressures on A&E,” she added.
However, health trusts and their partners in the borough are working hard to combat such issues.