But the better outcomes for patients, touted by NHS planners in the reorganisation of emergency care, has not materialised either.
The study by the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at University of Sheffield, was released just days after controversial plans to close the A&E department at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and centralise emergency care in Halifax was scrapped by NHS bosses.
The research is the first of its kind providing insight into the impact of closing emergency departments on both patients and other emergency services, and found “no reliable evidence” that A&E closures led to more deaths.
Academics analysed five emergency departments (EDs) in England that were downgraded between 2009 and 2011, including Bishop Auckland in County Durham and Rochdale in Greater Manchester.
Despite pateints having to travel further distances to access care, no impact was measured on death rates.
Emma Knowles from the ScHARR said: “The public, in particular, require reassurance that the closure or downgrade of an ED does not result in increased death rates. The report suggests that any negative effects caused by an increase in journey time to an ED can be offset by other factors. For example, if new specialised services are introduced or if the care received at the now nearest hospital is more effective than that provided at the hospital where the ED closed.”
Co-author, Professor Jon Nicholl, said: “It is important to highlight that we didn’t find the better outcomes for patients that planners hoped to see from closing these small departments either. This means it isn’t clear that the disruption and anxiety that can be caused by closing emergency departments is worthwhile.”
Researchers also revealed evidence to suggest that people who now have further to travel due to local A&E closure faced a longer time between them making a 999 call and arriving at hospital - 9.1 minutes - compared to those whose distance changed the least.