THOUSANDS of patients have sought help from Glasgow’s virtual A&E service but less than a fifth of callers went on to attend hospital emergency departments last year.

Figures from NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s Flow Navigation Centre (FNC) show that only 16 per cent of those put through to the virtual service were referred to a physical A&E during 2023.

The stats also reveal almost half – 45 percent – of the 20,000 patients who used the FNC were discharged without attending hospital.

A further 38 percent were referred to a minor injuries unit, and one percent were referred to another specialist service. 

It means the service prevented around 17,000 attendances at physical A&Es.

Patients who do not have a life-threatening condition, but think they might need to go to A&E, can access the FNC by calling NHS24 on 111. 

They will be given a video or telephone consultation with a nurse or doctor, rather than having to travel to and wait to be seen at an emergency department.

If an in-person exam or treatment is required they will be given a scheduled appointment at a minor injuries unit, other appropriate specialist service, or a planned arrival time at A&E if this is the right service to access.

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The virtual service is part of NHSGGC’s aim to free up capacity in physical emergency departments for those with the most urgent need. It is designed to help reduce bottlenecks at A&E, improve flow throughout hospital wards and give patients a better experience. 

However despite the FNC being available, significant numbers of patients are continuing to attend physical emergency departments when their needs could be met appropriately by another service.

NHSGGC is encouraging people whose conditions are not life-threatening to use the FNC to help alleviate pressure on physical A&Es. 

The virtual A&E is based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital but operates for the whole health board area and is staffed by a team of expert Advanced Nurse Practitioners and Emergency Medicine Doctors.  

The team can treat a whole host of illnesses and injuries including chest and back injuries, minor head injuries, accidental overdoses, cellulitis, gynaecology and early pregnancy problems and burns and wounds.        

Dr Scott Davidson, deputy medical director for acute services at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, said: “The virtual A&E is one of a number of virtual pathways which are helping our patients get seen and treated faster.

“While pressure on our hospital sites remains at an all-time high, enabling thousands of patients to be treated away from physical A&E departments has made a significant impact on the front door at our hospitals and will continue to play a crucial role in the way we deliver healthcare going forward. 

“We’d urge any patient who thinks they need to come to A&E to consider using this service, among other urgent care provisions such as pharmacies, GPs and the NHS Inform website.”