Public services union Unison warned yesterday that the government's relentless cuts to community services have contributed to mounting pressure on England's A&E departments.
Unison called on the government to tackle concerns over the number of visits to A&E "head-on" as a cold snap could see them "reaching breaking point."
The union's call followed a BBC investigation which revealed that some NHS patients were attending A&E dozens of times a year as other community services were not available to them and this was adding unnecessary pressure to the departments.
Figures obtained under freedom of information legislation showed that almost 12,000 people made more than 10 visits to the same A&E unit in 2012/13, with just over 150 attending on more than 50 occasions.
The College of Emergency Medicine's Dr Cliff Mann said that some frequent visitors had mental health issues or problems with drug and alcohol abuse, which suggested that improved support in the community could reduce their use of A&E departments.
Unison highlighted that vital community support for these groups had actually been cut, leading to these groups turning to A&E as a last resort.
"Staff across the NHS have made sterling efforts to keep the service running in the face of growing demand and budget cuts," said Unison head of health Christina McAnea.
"The government, however, needs to face the fact that its austerity agenda is having a vicious knock-on effect on the NHS.
"When services are cut in the community for those suffering from homelessness, mental health problems or chronic drug and alcohol addiction, that leaves a gap that the NHS is being expected to fill."
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