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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Sunday Telegraph Half of A&E arrivals sent home without treatment

Half of patients who attended Accident & Emergency departments in the past year only needed advice - or did not receive any treatment at all, according to official figures.

Amid fears from senior doctors that the NHS could be facing its worst ever winter, new statistics suggest that millions of people are going to casualty units because they do not know where else to turn for basic help.

The figures show that in 2012/13 there were 22 million A&E attendances - an 11 per cent rise in four years. Of those, 34 per cent left after being were given only advice about a health concern, while a further 13 per cent were sent away with no treatment at all, the statistics show.

Dr Cliff Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “We have got a problem that many patients think it is more convenient to go to A&E - where they know they are likely to be seen prettty quickly - rather than trying to get an appointment with their GP.”

The figures show the majority of patients arrived at A&E during between 9am and 6pm, which could reflect problems accessing routine care from family doctors, experts said.

“Most of the people turning up at A&E are doing so during normal working hours, not at night. If you have good accesss to GPs during those times that is what reduces the most pressure on hospitals,” Dr Mann said.

The statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre also suggest that units are routinely putting NHS targets ahead of patients’ needs. They show a massive surge in the numbers who are admitted to a hospital bed, or sent home, in the last ten minutes before the four-hour national deadline for treatment. Patients are more than twice as likely to be moved on from A&E during those ten minutes, than during any other ten-minute period leading up to it, the records disclose. Among those admitted to a ward, 59 per cent were found a bed in the last 10 minutes before the clock reached four hours, while 10 per cent were admitted within the first 10 minutes measured.

Julia Manning, chief executive of think tank 2020Health, said: “This is really worrying - it confirms our fears that the pressure to hit the target means staff are watching the clock, not the patient in front of them.”

The figures show more than half of A&E attendances in 2012/13 involved those aged 40 or under. Experts said the statistics, which cover England, may suggest that younger people were less likely to put up with long waits to see a family doctor, or be less stoic about putting up with minor health complaints. Of all patients who arrived at A&E units, one in five were admitted to hospital. But among older patients attending casualty, the proportion soared, with almost half of patients over 65 who arrive at casualty ending up being admitted to a ward.

Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, said: "Too many people feel there is no alternative to A&E because Labour's disastrous 2004 contract consumed GPs' time with targets and box-ticking, and broke the personal link between doctor and patient. That’s why we are ripping up that contract, and bringing back traditional family doctors to take personal responsibility for patients’ care – starting with the over 75s."