Hospital swamped by time wasters

The Accident & Emergency Dept at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital
The Accident & Emergency Dept at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital
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TIME wasters are swamping Sheffield’s emergency departments - prompting hospital bosses to plead with patients to attend A&E only in a true crisis.

More than 12,000 people turned up in the last month alone at the city’s three casualty departments - almost 10,000 at the Northern General Hospital’s accident and emergency unit.

Rotherham and Barnsley accident and emergency units have also been overrun.

Today doctors across South Yorkshire pleaded for patients to think twice before they come to hospital.

Health bosses say the rising numbers are caused by people with minor problems that could be treated by a GP - meaning genuinely seriously ill patients are waiting longer to be seen.

Sheffield’s A&E department at the Northern General Hospital received 9,945 patients last month - nearly six per cent up on October 2010, and 12 per cent up on October 2009.

A further 2,500 patients walked into the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s minor injuries and eye casualty units, meaning the 12,000 barrier at the city’s urgent care facilities was smashed for the first month ever.

Sheffield’s deputy chief operating officer Richard Parker said: “We are exceptionally busy and would urge people to think twice about what level of care they really need before coming to A&E.

“As we embark on the busy winter period we are asking for the public’s support to use A&E only if it is an emergency.

“This will ensure we can provide the appropriate care to those people who really need our expertise.”

More than 3,200 people visited Barnsley A&E last year compared to the year before, a rise of 4.6 per cent.

A survey found 61 per cent had known about their ailments for more than three days - and doctors say it is these time wasters, who could be seen by their GPs or pharmacists, who are causing havoc.

Meanwhile the cost of providing A&E services increased by more than eight per cent last year, and NHS budgets are shrinking ever smaller.

Dr Julian Humphrey, consultant in emergency medicine at Barnsley Hospital, said: “In the past month we have seen many patients with minor illnesses, which could have been more appropriately treated by their GP.

“As the cold weather sets in we would urge people not to attend the emergency department with minor ailments, to allow our staff to focus on patients requiring more urgent attention and treatment.

“If people continue to turn up at A&E when they don’t really need to, it inevitably means delays for people who suffer serious illness or injury in icy winter weather.”

Rotherham figures rose by more than 700 last year, and target waiting times at A&E are up to four hours. Fifty more people are seen by emergency doctors every day than a few years ago.

Rotherham Hospital’s deputy service manager Lesley Hammond said: “We need people to consider other options for their care.

“A&E is designed for emergency care, but increasingly we are seeing people who do not necessarily need hospital treatment.

“We get some people turning up with minor conditions - coughs, colds or the flu - which can then put our staff and other patients at risk of infection.”

A&E IN NUMBERS

12,469 - patients seen at Sheffield emergency facilities last month

398 - the most people ever seen in a day at the Northern General’s A&E

61% - people surveyed at Barnsley A&E who had known about their ailment for more than three days

8.3% - the increase in the cost of providing A&E services in the last year

WHERE YOU SHOULD GO WITH A MINOR INJURY

PEOPLE with minor injuries should use their GP or pharmacist as a first port of call before considering going to A&E.

Richard Parker, Sheffield’s deputy chief operating officer, said: “Patients with minor illnesses are given the lowest priority for treatment at A&E because of emergencies, and so will often wait the longest to be seen.

“Ask yourself if you really need our expertise or could you be cared for by your GP, pharmacist or at the Walk in Centre on Broad Lane.”

• The NHS Walk in Centre on Broad Lane sees patients between 8am and 10pm, 365 days a year. People can visit as an unregistered patient and see a GP or a nurse without an appointment for a range of minor illnesses and ailments. Call 0114 241 2700.

• The Minor Injuries Unit at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital is open between 8am and 8pm, providing treatment for over-16s for sprains, cuts and grazes. Call 0114 271 2071.

• The NHS Direct telephone service is available 24 hours a day on 08 45 46 47.

• The health service’s new Choose Well website - www.choosewell.org.uk - highlights the range of NHS services available