INCREASING numbers of frail elderly patients and people going to A&E when they don’t really need to are pushing services to the limit and leaving medics fearing patients could be at risk.
Two senior A&E specialists at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, which runs services for people in Hartlepool and East Durham, say the service is stretched and they feel it may affect patients.
Health chiefs say the system is being pushed to the limit by people who go to A&E when they do not need to and also by a rise in elderly and frail patients.
A hospital trust chief said accident and emergency departments up and down the country are facing similar problem and has now urged people to think whether they really need to attend A&E.
Chief executive of the trust, Alan Foster said there are patients who attend A&E because they claim they can’t get an appointment with their GP.
Trust registrar in A&E at the University Hospital of North Tees, Dave Prosser, said if the system is broken it needs to be highlighted.
He told the BBC Panorama programme which filmed in the hospital: “We have all felt that danger that there is someone in the department who is quite unwell and we don’t have a handle on how unwell they are because we are spread so thin.”
Andrew Simpson, director of emergency medicine, added: “Once you overload the system to the point when you have no beds in the hospital and no beds in resus and people are still coming, you must put people at risk in some way.”
Alan Foster, chief executive at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are under pressure and some days it is extremely difficult. But this is a true reflection of accident and emergency departments nationally. This isn’t a problem which is unique to our area.
“We are seeing an increase in the number of elderly, frail patients and we have patients who use the department because they claim they can’t get an appointment with their GP.
“We are an accident and emergency department. We are here to deal with accidents and emergencies but we see many other cases. Our problem is that we’re the only place that is really open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“To run an accident and emergency department successfully you need to have the right number of qualified staff and departments need to be large enough to recruit to these levels.
“If you are seriously injured or seriously unwell we will always see you. But people need to think about their condition and whether it is appropriate to come to an accident and emergency department or wait to see their GP.”