Intended for healthcare professionals


The patient’s dilemma: attending the emergency department with a minor illness

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 27 April 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1941
  1. Ellen J Weber, professor of emergency medicine1,
  2. Enid Hirst, patient representative2,
  3. Margaret Marsh, patient representative2
  1. 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143, US
  2. 2Sheffield Emergency Care Forum, Sheffield, UK

For most, a last resort becomes a logical choice after an inadequate response from other sources of care

All over the world, the number of visits to emergency departments is rising, waits for care are increasing, patients lie on stretchers in hallways, staff are stretched and stressed. Overcrowding is often blamed on patients attending for “minor illness.” We are outraged that these people haven’t gone to their GP, or used advice lines, walk-in or minor injuries centres, or GP after hours services. Perhaps it’s time we ask the patients—why?

Actually, most patients with minor illness prefer not to be in the emergency department. Our Sheffield patient representatives see it as a last resort. But they find great difficulty making same day appointments with a GP. Some visit walk-in or minor …

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