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80% of people think patients use emergency services unnecessarily, survey finds

But half of respondents said they found it difficult to secure an appointment with their GP

But half of respondents said they found it difficult to secure an appointment with their GP


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More than eight in 10 people believe patients are calling ambulances and visiting emergency departments unnecessarily, a survey has found.

The National Centre for Social Research (NCSR) asked 2,906 people from England, Wales and Scotland about their attitudes towards emergency care. 

Choosing to visit emergency departments rather than GPs

Among the respondents, 86% said people use emergency departments unnecessarily and 86% said the same about calling 999 for ambulances.

Almost a third (32%) said they had visited an emergency department in the past 12 months, and individuals living in deprived areas reported making higher use of emergency services than other sections of the population.

Half of respondents (51%) said they found it difficult to secure an appointment with their GP, and 17% said they prefer to visit emergency departments rather than GPs because they could get tests performed more swiftly.

Call for more investment and safer staffing levels


Patricia Marquis

Responding to the survey, RCN England director Patricia Marquis said: ‘Emergency departments across the country are crammed because people are forced to go where the lights are on when they can’t get the treatment they need elsewhere,’ she said.

‘Staffing levels aren’t improving and yet demand is continuing to rise.

‘This survey demonstrates the need for concerted investment across health and care services, and for accountability for safe staffing levels to be set in law.’

Tackling the social care crisis

Ruth Thorlby, assistant director of policy at charity The Health Foundation, said fixing primary care alone would not solve the problems facing emergency services.

‘We need to see broader solutions that impact on the number of people in need of hospital care,’ she said.

‘This includes urgently finding a solution to the social care crisis and investing in services that prevent ill health in the first place.’

Using NHS 111 to ascertain treatment options

An NHS England spokesperson acknowledged that GP services were under pressure but said the public could use the 24-hour NHS 111 telephone and online service to determine the best option for treatment.


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