Doctors warn over Accident and Emergency fees

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DOCTORS are telling their patients to avoid A&E because their surgery will be charged for the hospital visit.

Both Downland Medical Centre in Polegate and the Arlington Road Medical Practice in Eastbourne have warned patients about costs involved in visiting the A&E department.

In its monthly newsletter The Arlington Road surgery stated: “Each time a patient attends A&E the practice is charged an initial fee of currently £52.

“This will still be charged if you see the triage nurse but do not wait to be seen by a doctor.

“The fee increases according to what treatment investigations are carried out if you do wait to be seen by a doctor.

“Please consider carefully, before attending A&E, whether your problem is appropriate or whether it could be dealt with at one of the other services.”

The Downland Medical Centre letter sent out with prescriptions read, “We have been looking at the cost to the NHS when patients attend A&E with conditions that could have been treated for another NHS service.

“The average cost per attendance, not involving an overnight stay, for our surgery in January 2011 was £1,005.29. Please consider other services before making your choice.”

Lower Willingdon resident John Watson, a patient at the Polegate surgery, was shocked to receive the letter with his prescription earlier this week.

He said, “When I collected my prescription there was a letter from the practice attached to explain that if I needed to attend the A&E at the hospital a charge would be made to the practice.

“In view of these charges the letter asked that if possible a visit to the nurse at the practice should be the first option.

“If all A&E visits and overnight stays are charged back to the various surgeries in the town how on earth is the hospital overspent? It again makes one wonder who are the people running our hospital and their ability to do so.”

DGH campaigner Liz Walke said the message to only visit A&E if absolutely necessary had been stressed to people for some time. However, she felt the letters were targeting the wrong people.

Ms Walke said, “People worry about this sort of thing, especially when the surgeries are closed over Christmas, and it is the little old lady who may need to go to A&E over Christmas who will stay at home because she is worried about this.

“People don’t want to go to the hospital. They mainly go because they have to. There are people who go unnecessarily but they will not be the ones who receive or take notice of a letter from their doctor’s surgery.”

The Herald understands doctor’s surgeries are sending out letters because changes to the NHS finances regarding A&E admissions are in the pipeline. Currently hospitals are paid for each patient by the Primary Care Trust. However, there is an ongoing transition where GPs will take over the purse strings and from next April they will work with the Primary Care Trust. By April 2013 the money will come from the GPs.

The PCT says although there are sometimes more appropriate places to go for healthcare, if you have a genuine emergency A&E is always there to help.

Dr Andrew Foulkes, NHS Sussex medical director, said, “Getting the right care in the right place is better for patients and better for the NHS as it makes the best use of resources. If you have a genuine emergency, are badly injured or showing symptoms of a critical illness A&E is there to help you.”