A review of health professional attitudes and patient perceptions on ‘inappropriate’ accident and emergency attendances. The implications for current minor injury service provision in England and Wales
Increasing attendances in accident and emergency (A and E) departments in the United Kingdom have been attributed to a greater number of patients presenting with minor injuries. A and E staff believe this type of patient is suitable for primary care, and is ‘inappropriate’ for A and E management. Thus, A and E staff find ‘inappropriate’ attenders time-consuming and unrewarding, and are less motivated to help them, whilst ‘inappropriate’ patients believe they have attended the appropriate service for their medical needs and expectations. This review examines research into health professional and patient attitudes towards ‘inappropriate’ attendances in accident and emergency. It identifies a discrepancy between health professional and patient perspectives regarding ‘inappropriate’ attendances. However, the change in accident and emergency services with the development of minor injury units and nurse practitioners within A and E to treat minor injury patients away from the mainstream A and E service, appears to be based on the professional attitude of what constitutes an appropriate A and E attendance, and not on the patients’ perspective. As negative attitude formation towards ‘inappropriate’ A and E attendances has occurred, there is concern that such attitudes could remain or develop again in the new units. Patients are generally not medically trained and may experience difficulty in ascertaining the severity of their own condition and attending the ‘appropriate’ service, as defined by trained professionals. This is exacerbated by the unclear boundaries and roles of minor injury units, nurse practitioners and general practitioners in minor injury care. Therefore research is required into current attendances in minor injury units, A and E departments and general practice, in order to develop clear roles and boundaries for these services. More importantly, research is warranted into the attitudes of all minor injury care providers towards attending patients, and into patient perceptions of the services offered.