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One in five patients leave some A&E departments in England without treatment

More than one in five patients at some hospitals are leaving accident and emergency departments before completing treatment, and in some cases before being seen for assessment at all, with the rate across England trebling since before the pandemic.

Experts told the Observer that the increase was probably driven by a combination of long A&E waiting times and by difficulties accessing NHS facilities such as GPs, community health services and NHS 111.

The figures apply to patients who left A&E before an initial assessment; after an assessment but before treatment started; or before treatment was completed. They include patients who left to find treatment elsewhere.

David Maguire, a senior analyst with the King’s Fund health thinktank, linked the rise to patients having difficulty accessing other parts of the NHS and going to A&E instead.

“We’re probably talking about things that won’t require an admission, but it’s important that you get seen by someone,” he said. “So for example, somebody’s got a chest pain, somebody’s got some sort of adverse indication that you would want to seek attention for. It’s a perfectly rational thing to do. But it’s a struggle to access at other points [in the NHS], so you default towards A&E.”

He added that staff shortages and social care capacity were also contributing factors.

“I think it’s a lot of the NHS not functioning properly. Pre-pandemic, there was a certain amount of flex in the system – even with the problems that we were seeing around performance – that meant you could come to A&E with some of these issues. That flex in the system has gone – the capacity has been absorbed by other issues.”

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Source: The Observer, 21 May 2022


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