Patients who require emergency treatment at A&E at south Essex hospitals will have to book appointments via NHS 111 from this month.

The unprecedented move, set to continue beyond the current pandemic, was announced by Healthwatch Southend via their Facebook page.

It came as 19 coronavirus deaths were recorded at Southend and Basildon hospitals in the last week.

As of December 1 patients at Southend, Basildon and Broomfield are now required to call NHS 111 to find out if they will be permitted an appointment at Southend A&E or whether they will be redirected to GP surgeries.

The scheme has been trialled in other areas of the country and is designed to alleviate increasing pressures on emergency departments. Those with life-threatening conditions can still dial 999.


Changes - Tom Abell

However, the move has drawn criticism as no prior warning was given by the hospital and no details or advice has been released by NHS managers.

A spokesman for the Save Southend NHS campaign group said: “We only learned of this change via the Healthwatch Southend broadcast on Facebook and their website. We understand Healthwatch Southend were only told about the change three days beforehand.

“Southend Council had not been notified in advance. How are people supposed to know about these radical changes if they are not fully advertised and explained, weeks if not months in advance?”

The move is likely to place more pressure on GPs, who, thanks to Covid-19, are providing most consultations over the phone and via the internet.

Ron Woodley, deputy leader of Southend Council, said: “If it’s an emergency people need to go to A&E. It doesn’t seem right to tell people who need A&E that they need to make an appointment.A lot of people use A&E instead of seeing their GP but say people need to make an appointment seems a bit of a stretch.”

Tom Abell, deputy chief executive for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are asking anyone thinking of going to an emergency department to call NHS 111 first, so that we can arrange a time slot for their visit if they do need to attend.

“Managing the number of visitors to our emergency departments will enable the staff in those departments to care for members of the public who require the specialist skills and urgent care these departments provide.

“People should still call 999 for life-threatening emergencies."

such as a suspected heart attack or stroke.”