UNION bosses are warning A&E departments could go into meltdown after figures revealed one in three people used the service unnecessarily last year.
The Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said 75,522 people visited Accident and Emergency last year.
But of those, 15,226 left without having any treatment while 11,436 needed minor treatment which could have been found elsewhere – either visiting a pharmacist, calling 111 or taking care of it themselves.
The Echo revealed recently how some patients visited Sunderland Royal Hospital’s A&E more than 100 times.
This week we told how Grindon minor injuries unit has slashed its opening times in half and is now open just 12 hours a day, from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
Houghton Primary Care Centre, a £23million facility opened in 2012, has been earmarked as a place where patients can be treated for minor injuries and ailments, but is yet to provide those kind of services. The CCG has now launched a campaign calling on people to Keep Calm and Call 111, rather than going to A&E.
But union chiefs said the situation is likely to get worse.
Ann Clay, a Unison representative at Sunderland Royal Hospital, said: “If they close minor injury units A&E is going to get people piling in again.
“Everything is just a mess, there is no cohesion between services.
“If the 111 number is staffed by people who know what they are doing it could help, but we are yet to see a massive change because of 111.
“It needs to be efficient.”
NHS Sunderland CCG chairman Dr Ian Pattison, said: “Nearly half of those attending could be seen elsewhere in the health service, by phoning 111 and having an appointment made at a local minor injury unit, seeing their GP or popping to see their local pharmacist.
“If your GP surgery is closed, or you don’t know what to do, then call 111 and you will be signposted to the most appropriate service.”
“This means that our A&E departments can focus on those people with the highest need.”
Copt Hill ward councillor Colin Wakefield added: “Using Houghton NHS walk-in centre as an example, it will have been open nearly three years when the minor injuries unit finally opens.
“Local doctors’ surgeries do not open over weekends and only have one late night.
“I have never phoned 111, but given the adverse national press coverage on the poor quality of service offered, it is not too surprising that people are reluctant to use it.”
NHS 111, which is run by the North East Ambulance Service NHS Trust, is staffed by call handlers who deal with 999 emergency calls.
The service is free to call from landlines and mobile phones and is available 24/7, 365 days a year.