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Do you really need A&E?

Do you really need A&E?

Do you really need A&E?

Keep A&E for those who really need it

The evidence suggests that up to one in five patients attending the A&E department could be seen by alternative NHS services such as GP, pharmacy and dentists.

Download the Do you really need A&E? leaflet

A&E departments assess and treat patients with serious injuries or illnesses.

Generally, you should only visit A&E or call 999 for life-threatening emergencies, such as:

  • loss of consciousness
  • acute confused state and fits that are not stopping
  • persistent, severe chest pain
  • breathing difficulties
  • severe bleeding that cannot be stopped


If an ambulance is needed, call 999, the emergency phone number in the UK.

If you attend A&E and your condition is not serious, you may be re-directed to another NHS service if that is more suitable. 

There are a number of myths associated with attending A&E, and it is important to note the following...

You will NOT get your prescriptions free at A&E

If you are not eligible for free prescriptions, you will be charged by the hospital pharmacy if you attend A&E during office hours and need medication. At night and weekends, you will not be charged on the spot but the bill will be sent to you for payment.

You will NOT get seen faster at A&E

Emergencies get seen quickly at A&E. People who attend with illnesses or injuries that are not life threatening or serious will be seen after more urgent cases have been dealt with. This may be several hours depending on the how many patients with serious or life-threatening conditions are in the department. 

Emergencies arrive at any time of the day or night, seven days a week and this WILL affect where you are in the queue. For every one of these patients that arrive your wait will get longer – this may mean a very long wait in a waiting room.

If your illness is not serious or life-threatening, it is better to seek advice from NHS 111 or at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk, from a pharmacist or from a GP.

GPs are available 24 hours a day, via your GP practice or the Out of Hours GP service. If you are sure you need to see a doctor urgently, explain this to the receptionist and they will do their best to fit you in. In the meantime, you will be in the comfort of your own home while you wait.

You will NOT get to see a specialist at A&E

The doctors and nurses in A&E are specialists in emergencies. However, they are not specialists in the full range of services offered by the hospital, such as surgery or paediatrics (children’s care). If you do need specialist advice, A&E will arrange for someone to see you – but it may take time. For instance, a surgeon may be performing an operation.

A&E doctors and nurses do not specialise in minor illness – your GP or pharmacist is the best place to receive advice and/or treatment for self-limiting conditions.

Patients are advised to talk to their own GPs to gain specialist advice, treatment and the support they need for such conditions such as diabetes or chronic obstructive airways disease – unless it is an emergency.

It is difficult to get an appointment with your GP when you want it, but it is NOT better to go straight to A&E

You should always see your GP wherever possible. GP practices across Essex have made huge efforts to improve access for patients. You can request a call back from your GP if you are unable to obtain a convenient  appointment to discuss your problem with you, offer advice and recommend treatment if necessary.

Where there is a genuine medical need, GPs are able to prioritise and should be able to see you quickly. Many surgeries keep a number of appointments for people who need to be seen that day – speak to the receptionist about an ‘urgent sit and wait’ appointment or again request a call back from the GP.

Do not be swayed by past experience. If you think you need to see a GP urgently, phone your practice and let them know.

If you don’t know how to access your GP out of hours, phone your surgery phone number and you will be advised.

If you go to A&E you will NOT get all your tests and treatment sorted in one go

The doctors working in A&E have expertise with injuries and emergency medical conditions, but they don’t always have the specialist experience of your own doctor in the management of long term conditions such as diabetes.

If you need an ultrasound to assess a possible miscarriage, scans are never performed on the day and your GP is able to book a scan for you, or able to arrange for you to go straight to a gynaecological department without the long wait in A&E

Even if your own doctor is not available at the time of calling, you may be able to get a second opinion from another doctor within your own practice. Your practice holds all notes detailing your past medical history and will have a more complete picture of your medical needs.

If you need an X-ray, most GPs will be able to tell you whether you need an X-ray based on their experience.

If you call 999 and get taken to hospital by ambulance you will NOT get seen before other people in A&E

You will be assessed and triaged the same way as anyone else. Remember 999 is only for emergencies. The ambulance service will of course arrange an ambulance if your condition is serious, but your condition may be better dealt with by another more appropriate part of the NHS.

Keep A&E for those who really need it.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 will direct you to the most appropriate NHS healthcare service for your needs.

NHS 111 is staffed by a team of fully trained advisors, experienced nurses and paramedics. They will ask questions to assess your symptoms, provide healthcare advice and/or direct you to a local health service that can help you.

111 is an easy-to-remember number that is free to call from landlines or mobiles, 24 hours a day all year round.

Call 111:

when you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency

when you’re not sure if you need to go to A&E, or need another NHS urgent care service

when you don’t know who to call or you don’t have a GP to call

when you need health information or reassurance about what to do next

When to use Self Care

You can take care of those niggling pains or stomach upsets without having to queue or risk passing your illness on to others. Keep your cupboards at home stocked with the basics, such as painkillers, cough and cold remedies and simple dressings. You can then treat yourself and your family all year round.

For more information on how to care for yourself and your family, visit:


When to visit a pharmacy

A visit to the local pharmacy is usually enough to deal with most minor ailments or illnesses.

Pharmacists are qualified to offer expert advice, including in the evening and at weekends. Many of the bigger supermarkets have a pharmacist on site.

To find your local pharmacy visit:


When to go and see your GP

Your GP is the appropriate choice for all complex and ongoing conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or a heart condition, as well as many urgent health problems. For those with children, many GP surgeries will see them on the same day for urgent appointments. Did you know GPs are also available out of hours when your surgery is closed?

To find your local GP visit:


Remember - A&E is for serious and life-threatening emergencies only