100,000 repeat visits to hospital accident and emergency units

More than 100,000 visits to hospital accident and emergency (A&E) departments per month are for people who have already been seen within the previous seven days, latest figures show.

Some 7.5 per cent of all attendances at A&E in England are re-attendances, accounting for 102,197 visits per month.

This is the same as one in 13 of all visits, and the figure is as high as one in eight at some hospitals.

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The 7.5 per cent is more than Government guidelines suggest is appropriate. It says re-attendance rates should be no more than five per cent.

Exact reasons for re-attendances are unknown, although some trusts have a high number of people returning due to issues with alcohol or mental health problems.

Yesterday’s figures for April come from new data published by the Department of Health on how A&E departments are performing.

It includes data on minor injury units and walk-in centres across England and covers just under 1.4 million attendances.

Overall, 3.4 per cent of people attending the departments left without being seen (45,393 people), within Government guidelines of five per cent.

Not all trusts have provided data for the new report.

The Department of Health wants trusts to focus on gathering quality data for the first quarter of 2011-12 before it officially measures performance.

The national clinical director for emergency and urgent care, Prof Matthew Cooke, said there were a number of reasons for the re-attendance rate.

There are two main elements – those people who are seen and then return with a similar or same problem, and those who are frequent returners.

Prof Cooke, who is emergency medical consultant at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham, said: “There is quite a marked variation around the country.

“Big metropolitan areas have a similar picture as us, such as Manchester or London, but others have issues with chronic diseases, such as people with chronic bronchitis or heart failure.

“I think the variation that occurs is a strong driver for improvement.”

Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy said: “This is the start of the ‘information revolution’ and we welcome it.

“But we have got a long way to go. I’m not sure currently that the figures provide a true picture of performance.”

Earlier this month, Department of Health figures showed that the number of people waiting more than four hours in A&E has almost doubled despite a drop in attendances.