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

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Sky News Sky Poll: Drunk A&E Patients Should Be Charged

  • 08.09.2013
  • Thomas Moore, Health Correspondent

Patients who turn up at A&E for treatment while intoxicated on drink or drugs should foot the bill, according to a Sky News poll.

Patients who visit A&E while drunk or under the influence of recreational drugs should pay for the treatment they receive, according to the large majority of people questioned for a Sky News poll.

More than seven in 10 of those questioned said anyone needing emergency medical care because they were intoxicated should be charged for using NHS services.

Experts say at least seven million people a year attend A&E while drunk, placing an enormous strain on health service resources.

The poll commissioned for State of Emergency, Sky News' weekend of live coverage from Nottingham's Queen's Medical Centre, shows that two in three people believe A&E services are in crisis and patients are being put at risk.

The Sky News poll of 1,106 people carried out by Survation also shows that eight out of 10 believe the Government must take immediate action to avoid major issues in A&E.

And more than six in 10 blame government cuts for any staff shortages and poor levels of care.

However, three-quarters of those questioned agreed that doctors and nurses were trying their best, but were being worked too hard.

To address the A&E care crisis, almost two-thirds of those asked thought consultants should be forced to work weekends and nights, with four in 10 saying senior doctors who refuse should receive less pay.

More than nine out of 10 opposed the provision of breast enlargements and tattoo removals on the NHS.

Nearly two-thirds also believed NHS managers were paid too much.

The think tank 2020health estimates that on an average weekday up to three out of every 10 patients attending A&E are there because of alcohol, and at the weekend that goes up to seven in 10.

Chief executive Julia Manning said: "We should be sending a really strong message that this is a misuse of A&E. A&E is there for people who've had road trauma accidents (and) major health incidents.

"It's not there for people who have just been mucking around and drinking too much. So we need to think of a way of creating a disincentive for people to get drunk and go to A&E, and we think one of the ways is that people should be invoiced for that use of A&E."

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Sky News that while he understood the public desire for the move, it would be a difficult measure to introduce.

"I understand why people would want that, but I think in practice it's very, very difficult to differentiate between the people who have a health problem because of a direct decision they've taken themselves, and people who are unlucky.

"I think it's also one of the fundamental things that we all love about the NHS - that in an emergency you can turn up at a hospital and get treated.

"I think the day we started differentiating and saying we're only going to treat some people, and other people are going to have to pay, I think would be a step in the wrong direction."

On Saturday, Mr Hunt warned that it would be "very, very tough" for the NHS to avoid a repeat of last winter's A&E care crisis.

In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the Health Secretary admitted to being "concerned" about the high demand for emergency care and the pressure staff are under.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has warned of a repeat winter A&E crisis
In the first three months of this year 94 out of 148 hospital trusts failed to meet the target for treating 95% of patients within four hours of them arriving at A&E.

Although the pressure eased over the summer, waiting times have begun to climb once more. Some hospitals are already breaching the target, even before winter pressures kick in.

The Government has given the NHS an extra £500m to pay for short term measures over the next two years to help ease the pressure.

That could include employing more locum consultants in A&E departments and setting up GP surgeries inside hospitals.

"A lot of things are happening to give support to the front line," said Mr Hunt.

"But that's not to say we are not worried about it, because it is going to be very tough, and we understand that."

The national director for acute episodes of care for NHS England, Professor Keith Willett, told Sky News that demand for emergency care is likely to rise once again this winter.

He will shortly unveil plans to divert more A&E patients towards the care of GPs, paramedics and chemists.

But in the short term patients will have to accept they have to wait for care.

"Safety is the priority," he said.

"We will do everything we can to maximise the way patients receive their care as quickly and optimally as possible.

"But it is a pressured system and we have to work within the envelope we have and the skills and staff we have."

As part of the poll 1,106 adults were surveyed on September 2-3 by Survation on behalf of Sky News.