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Attending A&E when you don’t feel very well isn’t always the best way of looking after your health, unless it is an emergency or a serious injury.

What are A&E Departments?

A&E departments, sometimes called casualty or emergency departments, are hospital units where the public can attend without an appointment for accidents, emergencies and other very urgent medical conditions which may require the facilities and expertise of highly skilled hospital teams.

Examples where it is right and appropriate to attend A&E without delay include:

    • Major injuries from road traffic accidents
    • Serious falls
    • Major head injuries
    • Collapse
    • Severe breathing difficulty
    • Severe chest pain
    • Severe haemorrhage
    • Poisoning
    • Extensive burns

What Sorts of Conditions Are Not Appropriate for A&E Departments?

Unfortunately many people attend A&E with very minor problems. This makes it difficult for A&E staff to deal with the volume of cases this will then involve delays for patients and incurs considerable costs.

The following are examples of minor problems for which A&E attendance is not appropriate:

    • Flu-like illnesses, coughs, earache, back ache and sore throats
    • Minor breathlessness or wheezing
    • Abdominal pain (unless extreme or associated with collapse)
    • Urinary difficulties (unless completely unable to pass water)
    • Vaginal bleeding (unless very heavy and associated with faintness)
    • Rashes (unless it appears like spontaneous bleeding under the skin or the person is very unwell)
    • Backache
    • Diarrhoea and vomiting
    • Simple bites and stings
    • Social problems
    • Emergency contraception
    • Dental problems (except major trauma)

Generally, if the person is unwell, but alert and speaking without impaired consciousness or severe breathing difficulty, then they do not need to attend. Such conditions can generally be safely managed by your GP, practice nurse and sometimes with advice from a pharmacist, by yourself.