People with minor conditions are stretching the health service to breaking point by turning up at accident and emergency departments in Northern Ireland, medical workers have warned.
Doctors and nurses who work in A&Es around Northern Ireland have revealed details of the needless trips being made to casualty units, which are struggling to cope with the number of people turning up at their doors.
In one case, a girl came into an A&E because her false nail had come off and she wanted help to glue it back on.
It comes as the Belfast Telegraph can reveal Health Minister Edwin Poots is considering introducing a non-emergency telephone number as an alternative to 999. He is looking at ways of cutting the number of people who go to A&E for treatment when they could visit their GP or go to a pharmacist or minor injury unit instead.
In 2010/11, 351,828 people went to A&E or a minor injury unit for treatment when they were not in immediate danger or distress, or whose conditions were not true accidents or emergencies.
This was 58% of all visits to A&Es and minor injury units.
According to latest Government statistics, 2,338 people waited more than 12 hours in A&Es across Northern Ireland between April and June of this year.
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said: “It is vitally important that A&E services are available for patients who need them. It can be difficult deciding where to seek help when you are unwell, but it is important that healthcare professionals educate the public and that people understand why attending A&E with minor ailments is not appropriate. Inappropriate use of A&E services is a real problem — it makes queues for treatment longer and prevents staff from concentrating their efforts on patients with serious conditions,” the Royal College of Nursing director said.
Ms Smyth said the health service needs to ensure emergency services are used appropriately and that care for patients with chronic conditions who may need hospital admission must also be considered.
“Where possible, services should be available in the community and when patients require hospital admission, only those requiring emergency care should be admitted via A&E departments,” she added.
Mr Poots said A&E departments are under increasing pressure.
“There are many examples of this service being used completely inappropriately by patients,” he said. “People need to be aware that an emergency department should only be used in cases of medical emergency.”
Bizarre demands made on busy staff
Paper cuts, itchy sunburn, even a manicure gone wrong — it would seem there is nothing too trivial for accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland.
Health professionals working in Northern Ireland’s busiest A&Es have revealed some of the bizarre demands being placed on a service that is struggling to cope.
While doctors and nurses working in A&Es are there to save the lives of patients who are dangerously ill, casualty departments across Northern Ireland have to deal with thousands of people who do not need to be there.
One nurse, who has worked in emergency medicine for 16 years, said: “One of my colleagues once had a girl who came in because her false nail had come off and she wanted it glued back on.
“Paper cuts and itchy sunburn are very popular. People come in and want big dressings when they don’t even need a plaster.
“I had a lady come in who had been cleaning her sofa and some of the dye had rubbed off onto the palm of her hands. She was going to a wedding the next day and wanted us to remove the dye from her hands.”
Dr Sean McGovern, a consultant in emergency medicine at the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, said: “I know of a woman who phoned an ambulance because her earring was stuck in the back of her ear and a man who woke up in the morning and thought his nose looked different, so he rang an ambulance to bring him to A&E.
“There is also a timing issue. People have something they have been worried about for a couple of weeks but they wait until 9pm on a Friday night, when we are very busy, and expect to be seen.”