A tiny number of people account for a disproportionate number of A&E attendances, but High Intensity Units are working to reduce that
"If we can step in and give the right support early on then there is far less strain on a system that is already under such intense pressure." Naomi Phillips, director of policy and advocacy at the British Red Cross
A small group of people are responsible for a large proportion of A&E attendances, according to a new analysis of data from the Red Cross.
Using data between 2012 and 2018, the charity tracked the attendances of 376,000 patients who had been flagged as high intensity users – that is, they attended more than five times in a single year.
Although they made up only 0.7% of the population, they accounted for 29% of ambulance journeys and 26% of non-elective hospital admissions.
Most called on emergency care fewer than nine times a year, but a small number attended their A&E department more than 300 times.
Many lived in the most deprived areas and were often dealing with mental health problems, relationship breakdown, housing insecurity and severe loneliness.
Across England, 100 High Intensity Units (HIU) have been set up to give tailored support to people in crisis, with the aim of reducing A&E visits. The HIUs, which are run by a variety of agencies, including the Red Cross, target the top 50 most prolific attendees at their local A&E. They have succeeded in reducing repeat visits by this small group of patients by up to 84%.
Naomi Phillips, director of policy and advocacy at the British Red Cross said the HIUs focused on meeting patients’ specific needs: “People may have financial difficulties, mental health problems, or they are just struggling to navigate a really complicated system to get the right help.
“If we can step in and give the right support early on then there is far less strain on a system that is already under such intense pressure.”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS National Medical Director said: “The NHS is already experiencing record demand for emergency care, and we are only just heading into winter so the introduction of around 100 High Intensity Units across England will help to reduce unnecessary visits to A&E.
“The roll out is being accelerated by the NHS, meaning patients will be able to get a range of support in a more appropriate setting.”