Some NHS patients 'attending overstretched A&Es more than 50 times a year'

One person visited accident and emergency 234 times in a single year
  • @lizziedearden

Some patients are rushing into A&E more than 50 times a year, including one person who attended a hospital’s emergency department a staggering 234 times.

Almost 12,000 people went back to the same hospital more than 10 times in 2012-13, figures obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act revealed.

Just over 150 attended more than 50 times, including a patient at Luton and Dunstable Hospital who attended 234 times in the year, while one person went to Sheffield's Northern General 223 times.

Dr Cliff Mann, of the College of Emergency Medicine, said: “At a time when emergency departments are very busy, it is clear that repeat non-emergency attendees are adding to the pressures.”

He told the BBC issues such as mental health and drug and alcohol abuse led to frequent visits, suggesting that better community support and improved social care could prevent unnecessary repeat attendances.

Others were using A&E simply because they had had good experiences in the past, while those who struggle with English use A&E “as a default”, he said.

Figures for the Christmas period have not yet been released but the government’s four hour target for A&E waiting times was missed in England earlier in December.

The drop comes despite the government plunging £350million of extra funding into hospitals across the country to cope with winter pressures.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, told the BBC access to GPs must be improved.

She added: “It needs to be recognised that every inappropriate attendance at the A&E would detract health professionals from attending to the genuine and often life-threatening emergencies.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England said repeat visitors were a “relatively small” proportion compared to the 21million visits to A&Es across the country every year.

She added: “Our A&E departments are trusted by the public and it is really important that people know the NHS will be there for them if they need treatment and care.

”It is also important that patients and the public know about and use the full range of health services in their local area.”

Out of 175 hospital trusts and boards the BBC requested information from, 106 responded, covering 183 units.