Headlines: January 7th, 2014

Some patients are going to A&E units in the UK more than 50 times a year, a BBC investigation shows.

Data from 183 sites obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed nearly 12,000 people made more than 10 visits to the same unit in 2012-13. A small number of those – just over 150 – attended more than 50 times.

The re-attenders often have health issues – both physical and mental – that are not being dealt with properly in the community. For some patients A&E becomes a crutch. They may be lonely or scared and turn to A&E because its doors are always open.

Of the 144 major centres, more than 60 failed to hit the target during the Christmas week despite the number of patients dropping by nearly 10%.

Dr Cliff Mann, of the College of Emergency Medicine, said the BBC’s findings on repeat attendees raised some worrying questions as hospitals struggled to cope. He said there were a variety of issues which led patients to become frequent visitors, including mental health and problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, which suggested that with better support in the community, particularly from social care, repeat visits could be prevented.

Gayna Hart, managing director of healthcare software provider Quicksilva, said: “The number of repeat visits can’t purely be down to the ‘worried-well’ or even those suffering with drug and alcohol related illness. More likely it is the result of patients with health issues who are not getting what they need from social care, where their treatment would be better provided than in front line A&E.”

She added: “The majority of health and social care organisations in England are operating with fax systems, making joined up working all but impossible. Until the handover of care between hospitals, GPs and social care is handled efficiently by integrated systems, the situation will only get worse as patient numbers grow.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England said the figures should be seen in context – in England alone there were more than 21 million visits to A&E units last year. “The figures presented here suggest that the number of people attending A&E frequently is relatively small when considered against the big picture.

“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.” But she added: “It is also important that patients and the public know about and use the full range of health services in their local area. The NHS works hard to ensure people know where to go to get the best care and can use services appropriately.”