Published on: 30-08-2017

Third of patients say they admitted themselves because they 'didn't know what to do'

They are basic skills that could prove vital in a medical emergency.

But first aid is becoming a "lost" ability, with patients piling unnecessary pressure on A&E departments simply because they are unable to assess a minor health issue.

As A&E waiting times reach their worst levels since records began 15 years ago, new research shows more than a third (34.1 per cent) of patients admitted themselves simply because they were'"worried and didn't know what to do."

The most common reasons for attending were pains, accidents resulting in minor injuries and fever in children, according to the British Red Cross study.

But patients were urged to help themselves with first aid when possible, by taking simple medicines to reduce pain or fever.

Some healthcare workers even suggested people avoided using these medicines because they believed doctors needed to witness an illness at its worst point.

More than 2.5million people had to wait for longer than the four-hour maximum in English A&E units in 2016/17, with only 89.1 per cent of patients seen within four hours.

This is well below the 95 per cent target and the worst performance since records were first collected in 2002/03.

Although three out of five (58.5 per cent) patients seek advice before attending A&E - mostly from their GP surgery or from a relative - more first aid education could relieve the burden on the hospitals and walk-in centres, according to British Red Cross head of first aid education Joe Mulligan.

"Clearer public information and first aid education could help people access the right type of care at the right point in time ? which could ease some of the pressure on A&E, and reduce patient suffering," he said.

What's worrying is that there is a lot of confusion, with many people unsure how to correctly assess their health issue and unable to navigate the health system accordingly.

The research shows that patients are seeking advice before attending A&E, highlighting how difficult it is for people to work out which service best suits their needs.

"Ultimately we would like everyone to have the opportunity to learn first aid at key stages throughout their lives, starting at school. This would help to equip a generation of people with the first aid skills they need to help in an emergency."

The groups of patients who use A&E frequently and could potentially benefit from first aid interventions include patients with long-term health issues, the elderly and infirm and children, according to the study.

Dr Julie Mytton, of UWE Bristol, who led the research, said: "The people we spoke to often found it difficult to know when a problem was bad enough to ask for help, as well as being unsure of the best place to go to get that help".

"Many people knew that A&E departments were busy and wanted to avoid adding to that pressure if they could".