Reducing needless A&E visits could save NHS millions

July 14, 2011

Nose bleeds, stubbed toes and sprained muscles are among ‘emergencies’ Brits would attend A&E Departments for treatment, according to research issued today (14 July 2011).

An analysis by The Co-operative Pharmacy of A&E attendances over four years has revealed that each year two million* Britons visit A&E Departments unnecessarily, costing the NHS £136 million** - the equivalent of employing almost 6,500 nurses or 3,700 doctors***. It costs £68 to assess each patient at A&E.

Each year almost two out of five of all patients only receive medical advice or guidance after attending A&E while around 450,000 people leave A&E Department’s without ever being seen by doctors or nurses. In the last year (2010/11), only 22 per cent of patients were admitted on to a hospital ward after attending A&E.

A separate study**** by The Co-operative Pharmacy backed the view that many A&E attendances were unnecessary or inappropriate as half of those questioned admitted to going to emergency departments for minor ailments which could be treated far more quickly at a walk in centre, GP surgery or pharmacy.

The poll found that one in six people were prepared to wait up to four hours before leaving A&E to seek help elsewhere.

Mandeep Mudhar, Head of Business Development, The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Our analysis shows that people are unnecessarily visiting A&E Departments and at a substantial cost to the NHS at a time when there is severe pressure to find financial savings.

“A&E Departments are being unnecessarily burdened and should only be the choice for genuine emergencies. GPs and pharmacists can treat minor ailments and in the case of pharmacists, without the need for an appointment.”

According to London Ambulance Service, only around 10 per cent of patients who call 999 have a life-threatening condition.

London Ambulance Service Director of Operations Richard Webber said: “We would always urge patients with more minor illnesses and injuries such as coughs and colds, minor cuts or nosebleeds to ‘choose well’ and consider other healthcare options before calling 999.

“Many people think that arriving at an A&E department in an ambulance means that they will be seen more quickly, but that is not the case – they will be treated according to their clinical condition and not how they got there.

“In fact, when someone calls us with a more minor problem and doesn’t need immediate medical help, we will offer them advice over the phone rather than send a member of staff to treat them. This means that the patient can be advised on the best way to seek treatment, and also helps to keep ambulances free for people who really need them.”

The Co-operative Pharmacy findings revealed that three out of four people were well enough to drive themselves to A&E or get a lift from friends or family. Official figures confirm this, as in 2009/10 more than 11.6 million people made their own way to A&E while only 25 per cent (3.9 million) attended A&E in an ambulance or by helicopter.

The research showed that one in ten people have called an ambulance for a stubbed toe, being drunk, sprained muscle or having a high temperature. One in 14 said they would call and wait for a taxi.

The top minor conditions people were willing to attend A&E for treatment for were:

  • Sprained muscle
  • Stomach ache
  • Stubbed toe
  • Minor burn
  • High temperature

Other illnesses or injuries people would go to hospital emergency care for included:

  • Being drunk
  • Cystitis
  • Insect bites

Additional Information:

* Copyright © 2011, Re-used with the permission of The Health and Social Care Information Centre.  All rights reserved.

** It costs £68 to assess each patient at A&E, while the addition of a simple test could cost £126

*** Average nurses salary is £21,176 (band 5 level) and Specialty A&E Doctor salary is from £36,807.

****72 Point interviewed a random sample of 2,000 adults online in March 2011.  Surveys were conducted among adults across all ages and regions of the UK.


About The Co-operative Pharmacy:

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The Co-operative Pharmacy is part of The Co-operative Group, the UK’s largest mutual business, owned not by private shareholders but by almost six million consumers.  The Group is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, the leading convenience store operator and a major financial services provider, operating The Co-operative Bank, Britannia and The Co-operative Insurance. Among its other businesses are the number one funeral services provider and Britain’s largest farming operation. As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group has also set out its social and sustainability goals in its groundbreaking Ethical Plan, which specifies almost 50 commitments in these areas.

The Group operates over 5,000 retail trading outlets, employs more than 110,000 people and has an annual turnover of £13.7bn.  Further information is available at



Contact Information:


Craig Noonan
PR Manager
The Co-operative Group
Tel: 0161 266 3589
Mob: 07702 505439


Alex Anderson
Senior Public Relations Officer
Tel: 0161 2663416
Mob: 07540 641 368