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£33m – the annual cost of Scotland’s needless A&E visits

8 Jan 2017

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Patients turning up at accident and emergency who don’t need to be there are costing the NHS at least £33 million a year, analysis has shown.

New figures published by ISD Scotland have revealed each casualty admission in 2015/16 cost the health service £118.

And with even cautious estimates stating around one in six attendances are unnecessary it means, when applied to last year’s £118-per-visit cost, £32,792,495 was spent dealing with needless admissions.

The Scottish Government itself has set out a number of plans to reduce A&E admissions, including trying to divert people to other minor injury services or encouraging the use of NHS 24.

But the 1.67 million who showed up at casualty in 2015/16 is similar to numbers in the years previous, with staff saying the wards are under more pressure than ever.

ISD Scotland says the average cost of each appointment has risen too, from £106 three years ago to £118 in 2015/16.

When all A&E admissions are totalled, the cost to the NHS was £197,327,000 last year.

Estimates about the proportion of patients who go to A&E unnecessarily vary, with one in six patients being the most conservative guess.

Doctors in England have suggested around 25 per cent of A&E admissions are needless, while former Scottish health secretary Alex Neil went as far as to say the “majority” of A&E admissions “don’t need to be there”.

Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Donald Cameron said:

“No-one blames people for going to A&E when they’re concerned for their own or a family member’s health.

“But it’s clear more needs to be done to promote other, more suitable options for those with less serious medical needs.

“The Scottish Government has recognised this for a number of years, but has made absolutely no progress in reducing unnecessary admissions.

“The cost to the NHS of these admissions is huge, and that’s cash which could be invested very effectively elsewhere in the health service.

“With budgets so tight, we can’t afford to be spending this kind of money needlessly, and it’s up to the Scottish Government to do more to get that message across.”

Notes to editors:
It is estimated around one in six patients who show up at A&E don’t need to be there:
http://www.scotsman.com/news/patients-needlessly-in-a-e-to-be-denied-treatment-1-3328817
Others have estimated that rate to be higher, with some saying one in four attend needlessly:
http://www.itv.com/news/anglia/2015-08-03/warning-about-unnecessary-trips-to-accident-and-emergency/
And former health secretary Alex Neil said the “majority” of those going to casualty “don’t need to be there”:
http://www.scotsman.com/news/nhs-promised-50m-to-boost-a-e-care-1-2810131
 The Scottish Government previously set out plans to reduce A&E admissions:
http://www.gov.scot/About/Performance/scotPerforms/partnerstories/NHSScotlandperformance/AEattendances