LETTER: The general public causes A&E delays

Late last year, I took a friend to the accident and emergency department of St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, with what turned out to be atrial fibrillation (very fast heart beat) – a condition that resulted in admission to the cardiac unit.

Happily that was successfully treated and continues to be monitored, but it could have been fatal.

The experience presented me with the opportunity to note and study the operation of A&E which had been under much criticism, along with the Government, for delays in treatment; waiting times and inadequate doctors – anyone reading this knows all the tales of woe and misery.

Many must also know the truth of the root cause of the A&E problems and I say that the blame lies with the public at large and not with any part of the hospital, medical or administration – it is you.

Yes, you!

It was a Saturday afternoon, so sporting activities were underway. There were around 40 people there, including a boy who said he was 14 years old, together with his father.

The boy was holding up his right arm. He was whimpering and blubbering and showed me his arm which had a slightly red bruise caused, he said, by a normal football encounter with another player.

He finished the game and his father then brought him to A&E. He could move his arm, scratch his leg and blow his nose and I saw absolutely nothing wrong with him at all – he had had a normal sporting ‘accident’, but it certainly was no emergency.

I saw this as total over-reaction by the father who was wasting the time of medical staff and blocking the A&E.

When the boy saw a doctor and then walked out with a great smile and not even a sticking plaster, my views were confirmed.

Better still, of course, the father (and why not the son as well?) needed to attend a St John’s Ambulance or Red Cross First Aid course to learn the fundamentals of self-help and survival in both minor and major medical crises.

All to the detriment of the medical profession; the smooth running of our accident and emergency unit and the genuinely ill.

And all at considerable cost. Conversation between visitors revealed that some had some back pain they had been troubled with ‘for about a year now’; one had a cough, another had vomited and another male in his 30s was holding a finger up with a handkerchief wrapped round it, having driven himself to A&E. He said he had cut his finger doing some DIY.

He was called and later emerged with an ‘Elastoplast’ or ‘Band Aid’ on his finger. Another wimp in man’s clothing wasting hospital time, costing a fortune, and preventing medical staff attending to those really in need of their skills.

I took the opportunity to speak with people waiting and with staff and have since continued this personal, mini-research project.

The results are both alarming and disgraceful and an indictment upon the public. I will itemise a few facts that I have elicited during some three months.

1. It is common practise for people, in all walks of life, to go to A&E early in the morning on the way to work, with minor complaints such as colds, back pains, headaches and the like rather than to go to their GP. WHY, because they MUST be seen by a doctor once they have checked in; they do not have to make an appointment and they can get a prescription free of charge – or so they think!

These frivolous, non-urgent, visits which waste the time of A&E, are NOT ‘accidents’ OR ‘emergencies’ but callous ways of cheating and abusing the NHS system.

Cumulatively they contribute massively towards destroying an efficient department and causing delays of genuinely sick people who genuinely need the help of a doctor.

2. When it comes to dentistry, some people – invariably working people – again turn up at A&E with a mouth full of neglected teeth and seek treatment because they have been told that a dentist wants £150 or so see the phoney ‘emergency’ patient before they agree to treat them. A&E are lumbered, daily, with these selfish, self-centred and uncaring people and have no choice but to treat them there and then. But there has to be a way to beat these queue jumping frauds and, as ever, the best way has to be through their pockets. By common consent within the local hospital community and a sizeable section of the thinking public it is agreed this crisis, locally and nationally, could be radically reduced if not eliminated by making a nominal charge of £25 to be seen at A&E – UNLESS admitted to hospital following an undisputed ‘accident’ or confirmed ‘emergency’. And drunks and drug users – suffering from what are effectively self-inflicted injuries and invariably dumped on the hospital by the police late at night – should have a £100 fee to pay. How about a six month trial – starting now?

I dearly hope that a local Member of Parliament will see fit to initiate action along these lines.

Richard Ostler

The Drive