Is A&E really for me?

Chris Mair, a retired newspaper editor and NHS volunteer helps spread the word on keeping urgent care for people who really need it.

Hospitals it is predicted will catch more than a cold this winter.

We – yes, you and me – will bung up A&E departments to a point where their ability to handle patients who need their precious skills will be undermined.

Statistics are used, it is said, to bolster weak arguments, but while the number of people who abuse or ignorantly use A&E may not be cock-on accurate, conjure with the number 60 as a percentage of those who clog A&E but are simply sent on their way to a pharmacist or GP.

That’s too big a number to be classed as ‘weak’. It’s what A&E has to live with.

The Patients Association has called Sir Bruce Keogh’s plan for super hospitals to which heart attack and trauma patients are blue-lighted, backed by hospitals taking lesser emergencies, as ‘promising’. His ambitions for better joined-up working between GPs, Pharmacists, Minor Injuries Units and Walk-In Centres ought to be happening now. But, this aspiration is also promising.

Jeremy Hunt’s ‘buddying up’ of GPs with their over-75-year-old patients also sounds promising. Billed as part of a bigger GP contract make-over, it would be nice to see 7-day a week GP surgeries on a 12 hour shift basis to reflect services that Minor Injuries Units often deliver.

But, good as all this is, it is the now and this winter that needs the biggest sticking plaster. How do you get the message across to us, the public:  ‘Is A&E for me?’

A few months back I joined, as a volunteer, an initiative by South Worcestershire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group called ‘Better Together’. The aim is to use us – ‘Joe Public’ – to test out ideas and initiatives and even take part in talking to people about how they, with a bit of thinking, can help their local NHS deliver the right service to the right people at the right time – and the right place.

So, on a cold Friday with three NHS staffers we took the next step in a series of road-shows named: ‘Is A&E for me?’ The offer to supermarket shoppers; a carrier bag with the slogan printed loud and proud, a flyer detailing all MIU’s, Walk-In Centres – often closer than A&E with less waiting time – phone numbers, websites: the lot. Plus a handy credit card sized wallet filler making the statement: ‘A&E is for people who need emergency care’ – ‘other health services may be more suitable’. With the website for further info and the card also promoting the maligned NHS 111 service – now to get a clinician makeover – bases were well covered.

So, did it work? Time will tell, but it was about getting out there and doing it.

Talking to people, flashing your red T-shirt with the ‘Is A&E for me?’ slogan on show – yes, there were a few ‘no thanks’ to the bag or flyer – but most accepted, looked at the flyer and put it into their bag or pocket. Perhaps to read and keep? A possible result? As I said, time will tell.

Maybe the flyer as an insert in the local paper, or a full door-to-door Royal Mail delivery are other routes, or even a regional TV ad with a Facebook link. Giant mobile billboards have been used to highlight illegal immigrant issues and one local board displayed the face of a lifer – who’d legged it from a less than secure prison. So, why not the NHS – ‘Is A&E for me?’ Yes, it is, but don’t abuse it this winter and reflect on a slogan aimed at helping avert an A&E meltdown.

Chris Mair

Chris Mair is a former regional newspaper editor. He joined the ‘Better Together’ initiative launched by NHS South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group to see if his background in journalism could be of benefit. Retired, he has relocated back to the UK, having lived in France for five years and is acutely aware of the range of pressures the NHS is under; A&E in particular, but also the need to better integrate local health services. A volunteer within the media team at the 2012 Paralympic Games, he currently runs a weekly drop-in for people looking for support with job hunting and also co-hosts a computer course for beginners.


  1. Frank Stratford says:

    As we get older tablets tend to be prescribed like medals. How many elderly people end up in A & E because their medication and its interactions and side-effects are not properly monitored? I did last week and spent three days there blocking a bed. The problem was predictable and took me two minutes to find on the Net. The only up to date record of my medications, including a newly prescribed heavy dose of steroids, was in my pocket. Fortunately I was conscious. The problem is not with A & E, its at the grass roots GP level.

  2. Helen says:

    This is really valuable and I agree – I often say to friends that they don’t need to go to a&e and help them consider options (informally) but as soon as someone else (usually with no healthcare experience) suggests a&e they listen to that advice! However, ending up in a&e because the process does not support people with long term conditions (who know their condition best) or people who have been discharged and don’t have anywhere to get information – especially out of hours- doesn’t help at all and is really frustrating.
    The whole journey needs to be user friendly and build confidence for users and their families/carers.