One in five people has attended an A&E for non-urgent care, according to a poll for Healthwatch England.
The NHS patient champion said that health chiefs should stop blaming people for going to the wrong place and start providing better alternatives.
The poll coincides with a report published today by the Public Accounts Committee, which says that there is no clear plan to end a chronic shortage of A&E doctors. It says that care is suffering and the money is being wasted because the NHS has no financial incentive to keep people out of hospital. It recommends that consultants be paid more to work at struggling hospitals.
Margaret Hodge, MP, the chairwoman, said: “Any attempt to improve emergency admissions services in the NHS is being stymied by the chronic shortage of specialist A&E consultants. Nearly one fifth of consultant posts in emergency departments were either vacant or filled by locums in 2012.
“There are also major problems in training enough doctors in emergency medicine. What we found amazing is that neither the Department nor NHS England has a clear strategy to tackle the shortage of A&E consultants.”
Mrs Hodge said that emergency admissions had increased nearly 50 per cent in 15 years. “Attempts to ensure patients are treated without coming to A&E are not working. While hospitals get no money if patients are re-admitted within 30 days, there are no financial incentives for community and social care services to reduce emergency admissions.”
A YouGov poll for Healthwatch England found that a fifth of patients who had suffered other minor problems admitted going straight to emergency units. A quarter said that they would probably use A&E for minor problems if they could not get a convenient GP appointment, while a third said that they would do so outside normal GP opening hours.
Anna Bradley, chairwoman of Healthwatch England, said: “Blaming people for going to the ‘wrong place’ when we need care is the wrong way of looking at the problem. Until the health and care sector offers a more consumer-friendly experience, things are unlikely to improve.”
The Department of Health said: “A&Es are under pressure and we’ve taken action to help, investing £400 million in the short term and, longer term, we’re joining up the health and social care system so more people can get the treatment they need, away from A&E.”
The NHS will be condemned to a “managed decline” without radical change, its chief executive has warned. “Those who say we can muddle through for two or three more years as we are and sustain the NHS are wrong,” Sir David Nicholson said at the Health and Care Innovation Expo.
There is no plan. The lunatics are running the asylum – and NHSreality agrees, as does David Nicholson, we are condemned to a “managed decline”. (by our politicians)