Monday, April 26, 1999 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
A&E overloaded during holidays
Casualty departments are busy during holiday periods
The accident and emergency service is overloaded during holiday periods by people with minor ailments who should be consulting a GP, a survey has found.
The results have intensfied fears that the service will not be able to cope during the millennium celebrations.
But A&E staff who took part in the survey said that 70% of those patients should have consulted a GP, and most could have waited until regular surgery hours.
GPs had a round-the-clock responsibility for their patients and it was down to them to provide emergency medical cover outside normal surgery hours.
He said: "These patients are blocking up the whole system.
"We know that the health service is running absolutely to capacity. It is the difference between the service just about coping and being overloaded and resulting in collapse."
Mr Andrew Hobart, a junior doctor working in A&E in Birmingham said holiday times always placed a great strain on junior doctors who have to deal with most of the patients coming into casualty.
Mr Hobart said doctors feared they would not be able to cope during the millennium celebrations.
"I think we are scared of a workload which is unmanageable. Patients are going to be at risk and doctors working there are going to find that very stressful - we don't like not being able to look after our patients properly."
Mike Stone, acting general manager of the Patients Association said people should think very carefully before going to A&E.
"A&E should only be used in accidents or emergencies as the name suggests," he said.
Mr Stone urged people to contact the NHS helpline NHS Direct for advice about minor ailments.
The British Association for Accident and Emergency Medicine said A&E departments also had to cope with inappropriate demand in the evenings and at weekends.
In a statement, the association said: "The results show conclusively what has been known for some time, that many people are unaware of when it is appropriate to attend an A&E department."
NHS is 'well prepared'
He said: "This is a time for a cool head. Planning is very well advanced in the health service," he said.
Sir Alan said £100m was being invested in A&E departments this year to improve the service.
He said NHS Direct was also being extended to cover 60% of the population.