Thousands of patients at A&E last winter could have been treated elsewhere say health chiefs

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More than 5,000 people who attended Bedford Hospital’s A&E during last winter could have used an alternative service, health chiefs have revealed.

Bedford Hospital and Bedfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group are asking people who have a minor accident this winter to think about whether they really need to go to A&E, or if they would get more appropriate treatment by another NHS service.

Many people needing the NHS consider visiting A&E or dialling 999. However, there are many more ways for people to get the right treatment.

Department of Health figures show that there were 21,530 attendances at Bedford Hospital’s A&E between November 2012 and February 2013. It is estimated that up to 5,383 patients could have used an alternative healthcare service, such as their GP, local pharmacy or walk-in centre.

Minor accidents which don’t need emergency treatment include cuts (that don’t require stitching), sprains and rashes. People with this type of injury can visit the Putnoe Walk-in Centre, where they will be seen by a doctor or nurse. An appointment isn’t needed and they can treat and offer help and advice on a wide range of non-urgent conditions. The walk-in centre is open every day from 8am to 6.30pm.

A hospital spokesman said: “For general medical advice and treatment, prescriptions, referral to a specialist or hospital if needed, as well as jabs and tests - a GP is the first port of call. In Bedfordshire, a GP is available 24 hours a day, every day, to treat and advise. People can ring their surgery, even when they know it is closed, for information about how to access a GP.

“In many instances, pharmacies are also a good choice. Pharmacists can help give advice on treating common winter illnesses and over-the-counter remedies for diarrhoea, minor infections, headaches, coughs and colds, as well as selling bandages and supports for minor twists and sprains.”

Choking, chest pain, blacking out, blood loss and fractures are all considered emergencies and people with these symptoms should not hesitate in visiting their local A&E department or dialing 999.

They added: “Hospitals can get especially busy during winter, when viruses such as flu and norovirus are circulating, and slips and trips are common. Choosing the right NHS service will not only help ease the pressure on A&E staff but may also result in quicker treatment.”

Stuart Lloyd, emergency consultant at Bedford Hospital said: “A&E departments are for life-threatening and emergency conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems and serious accidents. We need to make sure that A&E services are free to help the people who really need them.

“Up to one out of every four people who go to A&E could have either self-treated or used an alternative local service, avoiding what can be a stressful visit to hospital.

“We’re asking people to think carefully about whether A&E is really the best place for their condition. Choosing an alternative could also save them time, because if their symptoms are not serious or life threatening they will have to wait longer to be seen compared to someone with more serious symptoms.”

Dr Fran Ross, Bedfordshire CCG Urgent Care Lead, said: “A&E and 999 really should be just for emergencies. There are other services that may be more appropriate and convenient for treatment. In Bedfordshire, a GP is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“When the GP is closed, ring the surgery out of hours phone number or check their website to find out where to go or what to do.

“It’s a good idea for people to make sure their GP surgery number is saved into their mobile phones so they can quickly and easily call for advice if they have had a minor accident.”