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Don’t waste our time NHS pleads with up to 17 million needless visits

This article was taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/02/dont-waste-time-nhs-pleads-17-million-needless-visits/

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Health officials are urging the public not to heap pressures on Accident & Emergency units, as they reveal up to 17 million hospital visits a year may be needless.

Jane Cummings, NHS chief nursing officer, urged people to turn to pharmacists and 111 whenever possible, as she warned that services are now under unprecedented strain.

A number of trusts have issued direct pleas to the public to keep away from A&E if at all possible, with others asking any available nurses and doctors to come in to work.

Senior doctors say a rise in flu cases has been enough to overload many hospitals and place heavy strain on ambulance services, even though the season has only just begun.

But today the country’s most senior nurse asked the public to play their part in lifting pressures on hospitals, in the week which is usually the toughest for the NHS.

NHS England said that in 2016/17, more than nine million people were sent home from A&E after only getting advice, which could often have been obtained from a pharmacist or 111.

Meanwhile, almost eight million outpatient appointments were wasted on patients who failed to turn up – a rise from 7.5 million the previous year.

The appointments alone were worth £1bn, officials said – which could have funded 1 million cataract operations.

Ms Cummings said: “With the NHS coming under pressure as never before, we are asking patients and the public to use the health service responsibly to help ensure that care is readily available for everyone who needs it.

“There are now more doctors, nurses and other clinicians available at the end of a phone to give advice and guidance to users of the 111 service,” she said.

The senior nurse asked patients to keep hospital appointments – or to give services good notice if they needed to cancel.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure?

  • An ageing population. There are one million more people over the age of 65 than five years ago. This has caused a surge in demand for medical care
  • Cuts to budgets for social care. While the NHS budget has been protected, social services for home helps and other care have fallen by 11 per cent in five years. This has caused record levels of “bedblocking”; people with no medical need to be in hospital are stuck there because they can’t be supported at home
  • Staff shortages. While hospital doctor and nurse numbers have risen over the last decade, they have not kept pace with the rise in demand. Meanwhile 2016 saw record numbers of GP practices close, displacing patients on to A&E departments as they seek medical advice
  • Lifestyle factors. Drinking too much alcohol, smoking, a poor diet with not enough fruit and vegetables and not doing enough exercise are all major reasons for becoming unwell and needing to rely on our health services. Growing numbers of overweight children show this problem is currently set to continue

“Sticking to your appointment is a small but effective way to wish the NHS happy birthday in its 70th year,” she said.

Darent Valley Hospital in Kent, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation trust were among those yesterday urging anyone whose condition was not a serious accident and emergency to keep away from A&E.

The day before, Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS foundation trust, in King’s Lynn, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, in Hampshire, and Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals trust in London were among those making public appeals for doctors and nurses who were off duty to come and work.

NHS surveillance suggests flu cases have risen by 67 per cent in a week in England – meaning around 3.7 million people came down with such symptoms over the Christmas period.

The data held by Public Health England shows the flu season now underway across England, Scotland and Wales, with a significant increase in deaths in Scotland.