Patients inundated one of London’s busiest A&Es over winter because it offered “instant access” to healthcare not available from GPs, an investigation has found.
North Middlesex hospital, in Edmonton, saw about 500 patients a day and ran out of general and acute beds on its wards on numerous occasions.
The crisis became so pressing that on one occasion finance director Dave Stacey donated a pair of shoes to a patient to help him get home, enabling the bed to be given to another patient.
An investigation by Healthwatch Enfield found that despite the hospital falling well below the four-hour A&E target – only 82.4 per cent of patients were treated on time – thousands chose it over alternatives, even though most did not have life-threatening or emergency conditions.
Almost 75 per cent of patients turned up at A&E without trying to arrange a GP appointment. They said the hospital offered a “convenient way to see a healthcare professional, even if it meant waiting”.
More than a third were aware of options such as GP out-of-hours hubs, pharmacies or the NHS 111 advice line. However only four per cent sought help elsewhere before heading to the hospital.
Patients also chose A&E over the hospital’s adjacent GP-led urgent care centre because of the 24/7 availability of X-ray, CT and MRI scans and blood tests.
Researchers spent a week in the A&E in January and spoke to 630 patients. The largest proportion, more than 15 per cent, had arrived with a cold, flu or fever. Fewer than one in eight patients were sick enough to require admission to a ward.
One in five patients said they had contacted their GP to be told that no appointment was available. Many others said they did not try after previous failures to get an appointment or because they expected to wait several weeks.
Many said they would be happy to use alternative “walk in” services if they were nearer their home and offered scans and blood tests.
Patricia Mecinska, chief executive of Healthwatch Enfield, said: “Our research clearly demonstrates that there is a mismatch between the current NHS offer and 24/7 demand of local communities.
“From what residents of Enfield and Haringey told us, doing more of the same to address pressures facing A&E at North Mid will not work; people will simply keep coming.”
Maria Kane, chief executive of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, said: “It’s clear that as a local health system we are not communicating well enough the range of alternatives and how to use them, or how these other options can provide faster treatment and better care for our local communities overall.”
- An edited version of this article appears in tonight’s Evening Standard.