Call for A&E time wasters to see sense

Accident and emergency. Picture: Jane Barlow

Accident and emergency. Picture: Jane Barlow

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Patients are turning up at A&E because they can’t sleep, have lost routine prescriptions or with injuries that can be treated with a sticking plaster, a top doctor has revealed.

Dr Dave Caesar, clinical director of emergency medicine with NHS Lothian, wants to divert timewasters away from the ERI as it gears up for its most intensive period. The influx of visitors during festival season regularly sees patient numbers surge by as much as 10 per cent in what is already the busiest A&E in Scotland.

And while people unnecessarily arriving is an issue all year round, it can be even worse in August as tourists may not be aware of facilities such as the Festival GP practice or the Minor Injuries Clinic, both at the Western General Hospital.

“There is certainly a gap in general awareness about the facilities on offer, often among young people who don’t think they are ever going to need to come to hospital,” Dr Caesar said.

As a younger medic at the old Royal Infirmary, Dr Caesar recalled a patient turned up at hospital after having a nightmare. He said: “We get a lot of tourists who have replaced or forgotten their regular meds and don’t know where else to go. We get the odd one in who will complain they can’t sleep, various things like that.

“I have discharged people having put an Elastoplast on a finger, we also have people in with colds, while others come because it’s convenient. They might come in to visit a relative and think while they’re there they’ll ask to get a knee checked out that’s been bothering them for years.”

Dr Ceasar said cultural shifts and changing expectations may lie behind the problem, while the introduction of a four-hour target for patients to be dealt with may have encouraged more people to go straight to A&E.

Tory health spokesman and MSP Jackson Carlaw backed Dr Ceasar. He said: “We know from expert analysis that a huge number of people who turn up at A&E simply don’t have to be there.

“There are plenty of other options, such as the minor injuries unit at the Western, and I would urge people to think about places like that before just arriving at casualty. That kind of behaviour puts staff under unnecessary strain, and jeopardises the safety of those who really do require emergency care.”