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It's time to talk about Walk-in-Centres and Pharmacies, not A&E

More work needs to be done to educate the public about hospital Accident and Emergency Departments and the type of illnesses that should not require a visit there, says Mandeep Mudhar, Head of Business Development, The Co-operative Pharmacy.

Posted: 14 July 2011

Mandeep mudharThe work will involve educating people about how minor ailments can be treated more quickly at a Walk-in-centre, GP Surgery, local Pharmacy or supermarket pharmacy.

Nose bleeds, stubbed toes, cystitis and sprained muscles are among the “emergencies” that currently signal a trip to A&E for many people, finds research conducted by the Co-operative Pharmacy. One in ten people have called an ambulance to provide treatment for a stubbed toe, being drunk, having sprained a muscle or having a high temperature.

Mudhar said, “Our analysis shows that people are unnecessarily visiting A&E Departments and at a substantial cost to the NHS at a time when there is severe pressure to find financial savings. A&E Departments are being unnecessarily burdened and should only be the choice for genuine emergencies. GPs and pharmacists can treat minor ailments and in the case of pharmacists, without the need for an appointment.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy analysed A&E attendances over four years. The findings show that each year two million Britons visit A&E Departments unnecessarily. This costs the NHS £136 million a year – roughly the cost of employing 6,500 nurses or 3,700 doctors. Each patient assessment conducted at A&E costs a basic £68 – but can cost much more if tests are also conducted.

Mudhar said, “Each year almost two out of five of all patients only receive medical advice or guidance after attending A&E while around 450,000 people leave A&E Department's without ever being seen by doctors or nurses. In the last year (2010 - 2011) only 22 percent of patients were admitted on to a hospital ward after attending A&E.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy’s analysis also found one in six people were prepared to wait up to four hours before leaving A&E to seek help elsewhere.

The Co-op’s findings are supported by other data. According to The London Ambulance Service just 10 per cent of patients who call 999 have a life-threatening condition. Richard Webber, Director of Operations at The London Ambulance Service, said: “We would always urge patients with more minor illnesses and injuries such as coughs and colds, minor cuts or nose bleeds to 'choose well' and consider other healthcare options before calling 999.”

Turning to emergency services is seen as a short-cut for some people, he said. “Many people think that arriving at an A&E Department in an ambulance means that they will be seen more quickly, but that is not the case – they will be treated according to their clinical condition and not how they got there,” he said. “In fact, when someone calls us with a more minor problem and doesn't need immediate medical help, we will offer them advice over the phone rather than send a member of staff to treat them. This means that the patient can be advised on the best way to seek treatment, and also helps to keep ambulances free for people who really need them.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy findings show three out of four people were well enough to drive themselves to A&E or to be driven to A&E by a friend or family member.

Norma Beavers, Editor