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19 January 2023

Quarter of A&E patients forced to use it because of GP waiting times

The loss of non-urgent care is stretching NHS emergency departments even further.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Patients in Britain are turning to A&E when they cannot book a timely GP appointment or access alternative non-urgent healthcare services, the New Statesman can reveal. A quarter of patients with nowhere else to go are opting for emergency departments, even outside of a medical emergency.

In exclusive polling for the New Statesman by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 24 per cent of British voters who had used A&E in the past year did so either because they couldn’t see a GP in time (18 per cent) or for another non-medical emergency-related reason (6 per cent). Three quarters, at 76 per cent, went in the case of a medical emergency.

[See also: We rely on the NHS to be there for us in a crisis – but it is caught in a crisis of its own]

These results underline how unsustainable GP workloads are, and shine a light on how other non-urgent healthcare services have been withering away in recent years. For example, 40 per cent of walk-in centres for minor ailments closed between 2010 and 2018, the non-emergency 111 helpline is overwhelmed, and pharmacies are reducing services and opening hours. England has also suffered a 37 per cent drop in health home visits between 2015 and 2022, and a loss of over four in ten district nurses within a decade.

This decline in non-urgent healthcare services means patients are turning to A&E, as are those who cannot wait for a GP appointment. Understandably desperate for answers, they pile pressure on an a system already in crisis for reasons I laid out in last week’s New Statesman. As our medical editor, Dr Phil Whitaker, a GP, suggests in his cover story for this week’s issue, the solution to our broken healthcare system lies in tipping the focus towards primary, community and social care services.

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Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a weighted sample of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain on 11 January 2023 for the New Statesman.

[See also: How to save the NHS]

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