Over a thousand walk out of A&E without treatment at Hartlepool's hospital trust in just 12 months
More than 1,000 patients "gave up" and left A&E without being assessed last year at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, figures show.
A leading expert has expressed concern that hundreds of thousands of patients across England may be coming to harm as a result of leaving hospital prematurely.
Patients who attend A&E are assigned an outcome based on how their visit ended – for instance, whether they were admitted, referred to a specific clinic, or died.
NHS Digital figures show that 1,005 patients were recorded as having left A&E without being seen by medical staff at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust in the 12 months to May.
A&E services are provided at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton with an urgent care service at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
The figures show 308,000 others in England left hospital before being assessed or treated.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said it was a "major concern to see so many people essentially giving up and leaving".
He added: "The optimistic version is that these people probably did not need emergency care and, when faced with the reality of a long wait, reconsidered.
"The alternative is that they were in need but potentially could have come to harm by leaving unseen."
The number of people who leave without being seen is one of five quality measures used to monitor the performance of A&E departments each month.
During May, the latest month with available data, 1.9% of patients across England left without being seen.
This was an improvement on the same month two years ago, when it was 3.3%.
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The rate for people leaving without being seen has improved in North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.
Last May, it stood at 1%, down from 2.2% in 2017.
The average across 2018-19 was 0.8%.
However, the figures exclude patients who have an unknown outcome, because staff did not record it.
Of the 1.7 million people who attended an A&E department in England in May, 13% had an unknown outcome – up from just 1% in 2017.
Dr Scriven said it was concerning to not know what outcomes so many patients had faced.
A spokeswoman for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our performance as described in the report is significantly better than the national figures. Our better than average performance for this marker reflects both the highly efficient service we offer in the department and our excellent communication with patients.
“According to the figures only 1 in 100 of our patients left before being seen, which is potentially about as low as one could expect to achieve. People will occasionally need to leave for a myriad of reasons.
“However, if there are any concerns in relation to a patient who has left the department without being seen then we would follow them up.”
She added: “We aim to assess all patients within 15 minutes of arrival and the majority of patients who leave before being seen would have had an initial assessment by a senior nurse which therefore enables us to make a judgement about the risk to them leaving.”
An NHS spokesman said the proportion of patients leaving without being seen had improved in recent years, despite an increase in an increase in visits to A&E.
He added: "This improvement comes as more people than ever are making use of the NHS 111 phone and online service, which has prevented more than 12 million unnecessary trips to A&E since 2011, by providing people with fast and free advice on more appropriate and convenient options."