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8th November 2021
A substantial number of emergency care (EC) visits for young children represent non-urgent attendance (NUA). This is the conclusion of a retrospective analysis of hospital database by a team from the School of Health and Related Research, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.
Data for the UK show that in 2018-19, there were 24.8 million attendances at accident and emergency (A&E) departments, which represents a 4% increase on the previous year and a 21% increase since 2009-10. While much attention has focused on adult attendance at A&E, visits by children and young people has been less well studied despite the fact that children make more frequent visits to A&E. For example, in 2015/16 there were 425 A&E attendances for every 1000 children and young people an 345 A&E attendances for every 1000 adults aged 25 and over.
Research suggests that non-urgent attendance to EC can vary between 20 and 40% and there is evidence that younger age is one of several associated factors, though specific data on characterising NUA in children is limited. For the present study, the Sheffield team sought to define the proportion of NUA by children which were amenable to treatment or management elsewhere, how these non-urgent attendances varied by patient age as well as the impact on waiting times in the EC department. Patient characteristics such as as age, gender, date of attendance, disposal, type of treatment etc were extracted from a hospital database containing information for more than a tenth of England’s population over a 3-year period. The team defined a non-urgent attendance as one in which there was no treatment/investigations or referrals that required the facilities of an EC department.
A total of 1,068,598 EC attendances from children aged 0 – 15 years were identified and included in the analysis. Overall, the proportion of visits deemed NUA was 21.4% (208,788). Compared to visits for children less than 1 years of age, the odds ratio for a NUA was much more likely in children aged 1 – 4 years (odds ratio, OR = 0.82, 95% CI 0.80 – 0.83). However, NUA decreased with increasing age, for example, among children aged 10 – 14 years, the proportion of NUA was 14.6% (OR = 0.40) compared with 20.5% (OR = 0.61) for those aged 5 – 9 years. The odds of a patient presenting with a NUA was also significantly higher (OR = 1.19, 95% CI 1.18 – 1.20) for those attending out of hours compared to in hours (i.e., 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday).
The researchers also found that for a NUA, the mean waiting, treatment and department times were all lower compared with urgent cases. Extrapolating their findings, the authors estimated up to 1 million non-urgent attendance visits across England in 2018-19 for ages 14 years and under.
They concluded that targeting groups such as those age under 5 years, particularly in providing accessible, timely care outside of usual community care opening hours would be of benefit.
Simpson RM et al. Non-urgent emergency department attendances in children: a retrospective observational analysis. Emerg J Med 2021