Influx of holidaymakers puts hospital A&E under pressure
The Westcountry's sell-out summer is putting casualty units in tourist hotspots under pressure as they wrestle with an increase in the number of people seeking treatment.
Health bosses annually brace themselves for the influx of seasonal visitors but say this year, in which bumper numbers have headed west in search of sunshine, has meant especially busy A&E departments.
Moreover, it is estimated that a third of people who attend casualty would be better treated elsewhere and they have been urged to think carefully before simply turning up.
In Cornwall, where the resident population of 530,000 nearly doubles every summer, the county's main hospital took to social networks on Friday to warn people that A&E was exceptionally busy.
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Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT) chief operating officer Jo Gibbs said that high numbers were experienced across the age range, including many elderly patients with conditions normally associated with winter.
"We are seeing a significant rise in emergency attendance and admissions to our hospitals at present," she said.
"Unusually for the time of year this includes a large number of more elderly patients with complex conditions who we would normally expect to see during the winter months."
This winter the RCHT was nearly forced into a lockdown as patients queued outside the casualty unit. Meanwhile earlier this month, it was revealed more people were spending longer in the department before being seen and an increase in breaches of the Government set target that 95 per cent of patients must be either admitted or seen and discharged within four-hours.
Mrs Gibbs said current issues were a continuation of the tough year: "It follows record numbers of attendances to our ED and Urgent Care Centre during peaks in activity in July.
"So far, it hasn't been possible to pin this down to any common cause but clearly it makes it all the more important that wherever possible people use alternative services, such as NHS Direct, pharmacies and minor injury units, if their condition is not an emergency."
At South Devon Healthcare Trust, which covers Torbay, a spokesman said the summer had brought an increase in numbers of people through A&E. He said that though they were busy, there had been no breaches of the Government four hour time limit.
"However, we recognise that more and more people are accessing emergency care and it is also well-known that up to 30 per cent of those patients would be better off accessing this treatment elsewhere such as at their local GP surgery or through NHS Direct."
At North Devon Hospital, Kate Lyons, director of operations, said the trust had "plans in place to ensure we cope with any increase in demand." She went on: "We often see an increase in minor injuries when there is an influx of holidaymakers, but overall attendance numbers have been typical for the time of year in recent days." During the last bank holiday in May, a national warning was issued over pressure on A&E.