A&E: for people with serious injuries or serious illnesses requiring immediate treatment.
Walk-in centres: for fast access to health advice, emergency contraception and treatment for minor ailments, infections, or injuries such as cuts, strains, sprains and broken bones.
Minor injuries units: for treatment of such things as cuts, sprains, minor burns or broken bones.
Across England, the estimated cost to the NHS of unnecessary A&E visits is at least £80 million to £100 million a year.
According to Dr Mike Cheshire, medical director at NHS North West, unnecessary attendances "put an enormous and unnecessary strain on the NHS, and not just in financial terms. Every minute that an A&E doctor or nurse spends treating very minor problems reduces the time they can spend attending to those who have suffered heart attacks, strokes and life-threatening injuries".
The NHS 'Think before you go' campaign focuses on easing pressure on accident and emergency services; incorrect self-assessment of illness or injury can mean that people go straight to their nearest hospital’s accident and emergency, which is not necessarily the most responsible urgent care option.
Alastair Wilson, the lead clinician in the A&E department at The Royal London Hospital, criticised some patients for their insensitivity in so openly spreading their germs to others in the hospital precincts: "Hundreds of patients with self limiting coughs, colds and flu have descended on the emergency department without concern for the vulnerable patients who could so easily be harmed as a result of catching even minor infections. Worse, individuals with diarrhoea and vomiting seem determined to spread their highly infectious germs amongst the elderly and infirm, rather than staying at home and seeking reassurance from their GPs.“
The aim of the ‘Think before you go’ campaign is to urge Londoners to consider other ways of help before calling 999 or going to hospitals and A&E departments, so that hospital staff can care for those people who need emergency treatment the most.
Key messages include:
hospitals in London are extremely busy during the winter so please help us to help you,
we need to make sure that A&E departments are able to care for the most seriously ill Londoners, so please think before going to your local A&E or calling 999,
there are many ways to get health advice and treatment near where you live,
GPs are now open for longer hours and you can also visit your nearby walk-in centre or ask for advice at your local pharmacist,
if you have flu-like symptoms or are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting, stay at home and seek advice from your GP or NHS Direct, and
for further health advice and information 24-hours a day, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.