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Nearly a fifth confess to knowingly using A&E for non-emergencies

12/03/2014

18 per cent of people admit to having knowingly used A&E for a non-emergency at some point in their lives, according to new survey findings by Healthwatch England.*

1 in 4 respondents said it is likely they would resort to using A&E in the future if they were unable to get a GP appointment in a reasonable timeframe, with 1 in 3 stating that they would do so if the non-emergency situation occurred outside of GP opening hours.

Despite two thirds of respondents expressing concern about the NHS's ability to cope with the pressure on urgent and emergency care, the research suggests that when it comes to our own health and that of our loved ones, many of us will continue to use services how we want, when we want, until real alternatives are provided.

The survey results also identified an issue with awareness of alternatives. Around a third of those who responded said that they didn't know where their nearest minor injuries unit or NHS walk-in centre was or the services it provides. 

Millions have been spent by NHS England and the Department of Health on poster campaigns, radio advertising and even apps to 'educate' us about how to make the most appropriate use of services. However, these results show there is still more to be done.

Emma Whitby, of Healthwatch Islington, said

"There are a lot of services available in the borough and it can be confusing. If you need help understanding what's out there, and what service is the best fit for your needs, then Healthwatch can help. Just give us a call on 020 7832 5828. 

"Where people aren't able to get an appointment within a reasonable timeframe at their own GP its leading to pressure on other parts of the system, typically A&E. It's a national problem, but it's very much what we're seeing locallyt as well. In that respect we welcome plans to pilot extended opening hours for some GPs in the borough. GPs need to be more accessible. That's something we hear a lot."

To stop people using A&E as a 'catch-all' service, Healthwatch England has called for the health and care system to become more consumer focused and develop new products and services to entice us elsewhere within the system. There is some work ongoing in this area already - the Keogh review of emergency care for example, which is welcome - but more work seems to be required to meet consumer need.

Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England, said

"Open all hours, with drugs on tap and guaranteeing to see patients within 4 hours, 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."

For those struggling to access alternatives or who are frustrated that they have been unable to get an appointment with a GP or other NHS services contact Healthwatch Islington. We can help to raise your concerns on your behalf and use your experience to encourage improvements for the future.

*Healthwatch England commissioned YouGov to survey 1,762 people to find out how and why patients end up in A&E and what can be done to ease the pressure on this vital frontline service.

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