GPs are being asked not to send patients to A&E departments because they are under severe pressure / Getty Images

 

GPs throughout England are receiving emails from their local hospitals warning that A&E departments are under severe pressure and urging family doctors not to send so many patients on.

The notifications, which are commonplace in winter when pressures on hospitals in usually greatest, are now being sent out “throughout the year”, the Royal College of General Practitioners said.

One such email, sent this week by a Staffordshire hospital to all GP practices in the area, warns that emergency, ambulance and acute assessment services are “currently experiencing significant demands” and asks GPs and other staff to take this “into consideration when referring/signposting” to the hospital.

The email, seen by The Independent was sent by the Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust on Wednesday morning.

Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, said that while the emails could be useful, they were indicative of “the growing pressures that the whole health service is under”.

“GP surgeries used to mainly receive notifications from hospitals about their pressures in winter, but now we are hearing of them being received periodically throughout the year,” she said.

A&E departments throughout the UK are seeing more patients than ever. In England there were 21.8m attendances at A&E in the year up to April – up from 14m only a decade ago.

Pressure on hospitals has led to A&E departments missing their target of treating or admitting 95 per cent of patients within four hours. Nationally, major A&Es in England have not met the target for over a year.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said that the emails were being received “very frequently”.

“They are a sign of the pressures that hospitals are under, and we understand that, but general practice is under great pressures too,” he said. “The old idea that it was only the winter that hospitals are under pressure is quite out of date. Right through the spring, summer and autumn now there are pressure points.”

Dr Baker said that the emails could be useful, and act as reminders to GPs to seek alternative care for a patient in need – such as community rapid response teams of community nurses and therapists.

“However, there are times when GPs just cannot win,” she said. “We get criticised when we refer too many patients to hospital, but then we are criticised for not referring patients early enough.”

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