One in five people turning up at Accident and Emergency at Blackpool Victoria Hospital don’t need to be there, The Gazette can reveal today.
Exasperated medics today revealed one person arrived at A&E for help saying: “My child has dog muck on his shoe.”
A staggering 15,000 patients turn up at the town’s casualty department every year when they can be seen elsewhere, such as the walk-in centre or by calling the NHS 111 line.
Consultant Simon Tucker today told The Gazette: “We are over-capacity and the demand is great.”
He said: “If I could take those people out of the emergency department, that significantly reduces the burden.
“We want to have a safe process and a department that is acceptable and dignified and we are struggling to provide that.”
Several measures have been introduced in a bid to cut down on inappropriate A&E admissions and waiting times recently, with millions of pounds of funding at stake if national targets are missed.
They include bringing in the new Combined Assessment and Treatment (CAT) service, which opened in June and aims to diagnose, treat, and discharge those with minor ailments on the same day.
That has reduced hospital stays by around 60 a week and there are now plans to allow GPs to refer people straight into the service rather than sending them up to A&E.
There are also plans to carry out X-rays in the evenings at the Whitegate Drive walk-in centre, beyond the current 4pm cut-off point, and the extensive care service, for over 60s with multiple chronic conditions, has been rolled out across the Fylde coast to reduce A&E attendances.
Several hospital wards have been moved around this year to improve efficiency and reduce ‘jams’ in A&E caused when patients are waiting for beds in other departments.
As well as people with minor illnesses – such as diarrhoea, vomiting, headaches, or colds – Mr Tucker said staff are being tied up dealing with everything from bizarre complaints, such as the child with dog muck on his shoe, to patients looking for repeat prescriptions and medical centres sending people to A&E for blood tests rather than referring them properly.
He added: “We have got to do what we can to reduce the risk of patients coming to harm.
“If you are presenting with serious symptoms this is an appropriate location.
“If however you are generally unwell you could think carefully about alternatives.”
Attendances at A&E have gone up seven per cent a year, he said, adding that he is proud nobody is ever turned away.
He urged those with chest pain, blood loss, shortness of breath, or with symptoms of a stroke to go to A&E straight away.
“But they have to be prepared, if somebody comes in with something that could be dealt with elsewhere, to have a long wait,” he added.
So far this year, just 89.5 per cent of people arriving at A&E have been seen within four hours, against a national target of 95 per cent.
If the trust fails to hit that target by the end of the year, it said it will lose up to £1m funding and could fail to break even, which it must do to qualify for 70 per cent of £10m funding it has already budgeted for.
And with the trust’s bank balance expected to plummet to just £200,000, fears have been voiced the trust could be forced into the red, though interim chief executive Wendy Swift has previously said contingency plans were in place to prevent that happening.
At a meeting last week, hospital bosses pledged to appeal the threat of financial sanctions, while director of operations Pat Oliver said she would like to ‘bottle and repeat’ one week in October, when 95 per cent of patients were seen within four hours – making the Vic the 12th best in the country.