SOME patients attended Sunderland Royal Hospital’s A&E department more than 100 times during the past year.
Concerns have now been raised that excessive repeat visitors are clogging up the city’s emergency department.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal five patients last year attended A&E more than 100 times, a further five visited more than 50 times, while 304 attended more than 10 times.
Although the numbers are confined to a minority of patients, fears have been raised that they are mounting pressures on the already strained department.
Health chiefs warned last year the city’s A&E department was heading towards breaking point after the number of admissions rocketed.
Trevor Johnston, head of health for Unison in the Northern Region, said there were “multi-layered” reasons which led patients to become frequent visitors, including mental health and problems.
Mr Johnston believes many of the patients could be better supported in places other than A&E.
He added: “Maybe some of those repeat visitors are using A&E simply because they had had good experiences in the past.
“At one time A&E was seen as a last resort, but these days it’s often considered the first point of call.
“If it’s after 5pm and your GP surgery is closed, a lot of people will just go direct to A&E.”
But at a time when the city’s emergency department is facing unprecedented pressures, it is hoped efforts can be made to address the issues.
Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “These figures are of great concern and provide yet more proof that our already over-stretched A&E services are being put under increasingly severe strain. It needs to be recognised that every inappropriate attendance at the A&E would detract health professionals from attending to the genuine and often life-threatening emergencies.”
A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “The numbers of patients with more than 50 attendances in a year are very small and many will be associated with excess alcohol/drugs at times of celebration such as Christmas and New Year.
“Other regular attenders may have a variety of conditions which need monitoring, or they may have been unable to find alternatives to seeking help from the emergency department.
“The increasing numbers of elderly people with a range of conditions that are serious, if not life-threatening, are providing increased pressures across the service and it is important that all members of the public consider which part of the local system they need to access – GPs, minor injury units, pharmacies – as well as the NHS 111 service.”