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Here we provide a brief overview of A&E as well as some interesting facts and figures

It’s estimated that there are 3.7million A&E visits a year for conditions which people could have treated at home or with their local pharmacy team’s advice.

These include toothache, diarrhoea, sore throats and even broken finger nails!

As this article explains, a hospital A&E department (also known as emergency department or casualty) is there to deal with genuine life-threatening emergencies.

Most A&E departments are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

They are situated at the front entrance of hospitals and specialise in the care of acutely ill and injured patients. Most departments deal with patients of all ages and with all conditions, though there are some that see only children or only patients with eye problems. 

People should go to A&E if they have problems including loss of consciousness, chest pain, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding that cannot be stopped, fits that are not stopping, severe allergic reactions, severe burns or scalds, stroke, major trauma such as a road traffic collision and feelings of self-harm or suicide.

If you’re not sure what to do, dialling 111 wherever you are in the UK can help if you need urgent medical attention. They will ask questions about your symptoms so you get the help you need.

Not all hospitals have an A&E department. Check your local hospital’s website to see what urgent and emergency care services they offer.

Emergency medicine is a medical ‘specialty’. That means that the senior doctors (consultants) who work in A&Es have undertaken specific training to learn how to look after emergencies.

For anyone arriving at A&E by ambulance, the crew will provide the patient’s details to reception and hand them over to the clinical staff. They may already have been told by the ambulance crew if the patient is seriously ill.

Patients not in a life-threatening or serious condition will be prioritised by the A&E team along with other patients who are waiting to be seen – arriving by ambulance does not necessarily mean someone will be seen quicker.

Those who make their own way to A&E will need to register when they arrive. These people will be asked questions such as their name and address but also why they have attended.

Once a patient has registered, they will be asked to wait until they are seen by a nurse or doctor. This process, called triage, is carried out on all patients in A&E and is aimed to ensure those people with the most serious conditions are seen first.

Depending on the results of the assessment, further tests may be needed before a course of action is decided.

If a patient is not deemed a serious accident or emergency, they may be sent to a nearby urgent treatment centre, minor injuries unit or referred to a GP on site. Urgent care centres, walk-in centres and minor injuries units are designed to deal with minor illnesses and injuries. They are usually staffed by nurses and sometimes by other practitioners with a lot of experience and expertise in treating minor illness and injuries.

Pharmacies can also give treatment advice about common conditions and minor injuries. Many offer extended opening hours in the evenings and at weekends.

Patients may also be sent home and asked to arrange for a GP referral or they may be given a prescription and sent home. Either way, the hospital will tell the patient’s GP that they have been to A&E.

If the situation is more complicated, the patient may be seen by an A&E doctor or referred to a specialist unit.

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