Report: experiences of attending Southmead A&E during the COVID-19 pandemic

North Bristol NHS Trust asked us to carry out a survey with people attending A&E at Southmead Hospital. We found that the management of people's long-term conditions in the community needs to improve, to reduce some of the pressure on A&E.
A red sign which reads 'Emergency Department', in front of a hospital

In November and December 2021, we collected feedback from people using the A&E department at Southmead hospital. North Bristol NHS Trust wanted to learn more about why people were attending A&E, in order to better understand how they could respond to the high demand on the department. Over the course of the two months, we heard from 101 people.

We created a survey which was shared on social media and our websites, and also visited Southmead A&E multiple times in order to speak to people who were waiting for treatment.

Key findings

Overall, people had a good experience of healthcare services at A&E. Many praised the department staff.

Two thirds of respondents had contacted a health provider such as a GP or NHS 111 before attending A&E.

Over 35 comments related to difficulties accessing a GP, including long waits for appointments and not being able to get through to their local surgery on the phone.

A quarter of people at A&E had a long-term condition.

40% were attending with an issue that a care provider had treated before.

Most people were attending A&E due to a physical health issue. A minority were attending due to mental health, and one person arrived for both mental and physical health.

The paramedics that were sent by 111 spoke to an out-of-hours GP who advised them to take me there [Southmead A&E].
— Respondent to our survey regarding the A&E department at Southmead Hospital

39 people gave us detailed information about why they had come to A&E:

  • 12 people left comments about long-term health conditions that they managed
  • 20 comments were about injuries that had happened in the past 6 weeks, and all had seen their GP previously
  • 7 comments related to injuries or incidents that had happened within the previous week

3 people had complex needs and lived with a long-term illness, and raised concerns about continuity of care. They explained that they often see different consultants or departments, who do not seem to talk to each other.

I was unable to contact my specialist doctor and feel that I am left with no choice other than come to A&E, even though I know there is not much they can do.
— Respondent to our survey regarding the A&E department at Southmead Hospital

People in the waiting area of A&E were generally happy with their experiences of the hospital, although some that they would like more communication about how long they would need to wait before they were seen. It was acknowledged that at times, the staff in A&E looked terribly busy and the department appeared understaffed.

Our recommendations: how attendance at A&E could be reduced

GP services need to consider and improve accessibility when offering appointment options (such as a face-to-face appointment or telephone consultation, depending on the patient's need).

GP services being more responsive and offering more same day or urgent appointments.

GPs and Practice Nurses having better communication with patients with complex and/or long-term health conditions.

NHS 111 to proactively help people manage complex and/or long-term conditions by signposting them to support and advice.

NHS 111 triaging people more accurately and referring them on to more suitable services.

Communication with people on arrival needs to clearly explain how long a person may need to wait for treatment or to be triaged.

A self check-in screen is provided in addition to the reception check-in.

You can download our full report below. If you require this report in an alternative format, please email


Engagement with service users of North Bristol Trust's Accident & Emergency Department - March 2022

If you have recently visited an A&E department and would like to share your experience with us, please click the pink 'Talk to us' button below and fill out our short feedback form.

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