PATIENTS visiting Bolton’s A&E with coughs, cold and even headlice are costing the NHS locally up to £850,000 a year.

Health chiefs say more than 13,680 people who attended the Royal Bolton’s emergency department in 2013/14 could have been treated by a GP or pharmacist.

The figures come after a study from the College of Emergency Medicine found 15 per cent of people who attend A&E departments across the UK — about 2.1 million people — could have been dealt with by an alternative to emergency care.

In Bolton, 15 per cent of all A&E attendances equates to about £850,000 of NHS money a year.

A child with headlice, a request for a sicknote and problems with lower back pain are just some of the issues people arrived at the Royal Bolton Hospital’s casualty department with last year.

A&E departments — the most expensive part of hospitals — are said to be struggling with a shortage in specialist doctors, the rising numbers of people attending centres and a lack of alternatives to emergency care.

The Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) launched a campaign last year to stop the swathes of people visiting A&E during bank holidays.

Dr Barry Silvert, clinical director for integrated commissioning at Bolton CCG, said: “These new figures from the College of Emergency Medicine illustrate that many patients are still using A&E departments inappropriately.

“We have done well in Bolton over recent months with fewer people going to A&E with minor illnesses and injuries — this is on the back of our successful awareness raising campaign which has informed people of the alternatives to A&E for people with minor illness, including choosing self-care or to see a pharmacist.

“However, we know that many people still using A&E should not be there so this remains a real problem for our local health economy.”

Minor attendances at Bolton’s A&E are said to have fallen by 6.3 per cent since August but health chiefs say there needs to be better access to primary care.

Dr Silvert added: “The CCG is working with the foundation trust, the council, and Bolton GPs to improve health services so that they better reflect the needs of Bolton people. This includes making health and social care more joined up and improving access to primary care.”

In November last year Sir Bruce Keogh, former NHS medical director, endorsed the closure of A&E departments and called for more care to be provided closer to home.

Yet doctors at the College of Emergency Medicine also pointed out that the findings showed 85 per cent of people going to A&E did need emergency care.

Dr Clifford Mann, president of the college, said: "[But] the fact that only 15 per cent of attendees at emergency departments could be safely redirected to a primary care clinician without the need for emergency department assessment is a statistic that must be heeded by those who wish to reconfigure services.

“Providing a more appropriate resource for the 2.1 million patients represented by this figure would substantially decongest emergency departments.”