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Campaign launched to stop A&E time wasters

The NHS is appealing to people not to use Accident and Emergency departments unless they need urgent treatment
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

7th November 2011 - A woman who had a mishap with her hair dye, a man seeking help for a hangover and a mother asking medical staff to wipe dog poo off her child's shoe - these are some of the examples of people exposed in a series of NHS viral videos for needlessly clogging up A&E departments.

Clips of these real-life dramas have been recreated with actors and posted on YouTube as part of a campaign to point people towards the most appropriate places to get NHS treatment. It comes as figures show that one in four people who turn up at accident and emergency clinics could have got treatment elsewhere or looked after themselves at home.

'Serious issues'

"The tales told in the videos are very funny, and they are extreme cases, but there are very serious issues behind them," says Dr Mike Cheshire, Medical Director at NHS North West, which is leading the Choose Well campaign.

Image: NHS Choose Well campaign: "Nail bar"

Figures supplied by the NHS Information Centre confirm that a large number of people visiting A&E departments in England do not need emergency treatment. Of 10.3 million A&E visits in 2009-10, about two in five - around 3.9 million - ended with the patient only receiving guidance or advice.

Staff under strain

Increasing numbers of people are using A&E departments and 999 services which, campaigners say, is putting a strain on staff who should be concentrating on patients with life-threatening or serious conditions. Figures reveal that the number of people going to A&E has risen by 5% in the past year, while life-threatening cases being dealt with by ambulance crews soared by 25-30% last winter.

It is estimated that the cost to the NHS in England of unnecessary visits to A&E and 999 callouts could be between £80 million and £100 million each year.


The main aim of the Choose Well campaign is to persuade the estimated one in four visitors to A&E departments who do not have serious injuries or illnesses that they can get more appropriate treatment elsewhere. Using a thermometer 'scale' to highlight the range of options available. These include:

  • Minor Injuries Units and Walk-in centres for cuts, sprains, strains, broken bones
  • GPs for health problems that won't go away, such as vomiting, ear pain, backache
  • Pharmacists for colds, diarrhoea
  • NHS Direct (and equivalents around the UK) for health advice

Self care

The campaign also stresses the importance of self-care for minor ailments such as hangovers, grazes, sore throats or coughs.

"Every single attendance at A&E costs a minimum of £59," says Dr Cheshire in a statement. He continues: "That puts an enormous and unnecessary strain on the NHS, and not just in financial terms. Every minute that an A&E doctor spends treating very minor problems reduces the time they can spend attending to those who have suffered heart attacks, strokes and life-threatening injuries."

Reviewed on November 07, 2011

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