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Study puts into question seven-day GP access scheme

by Valeria Fiore
23 January 2018

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A study published in the BMJ Quality & Safety by researchers at Imperial College London has found that there is no correlation between the levels of patients’ satisfaction with their GP practice opening hours and the number of A&E visits.

Instead, they registered slightly fewer visits to A&E when better booking systems to make GP appointments were in place.

The study concluded: ‘Associations between patient experience of general practice and use of emergency hospital services were small or inconsistent.

‘In England, realistic short-term improvements in patient experience of general practice may only have modest effects on A&E visits and emergency admissions.’

Researchers looked into NHS England’s GP Patient Survey reports from 2011-2012 to 2013-2014 and compared them with the number of A&E visits in their area.

Their research analysed patients’ satisfaction with regards to: straightforwardness of the GP appointment system, GP opening hours, and patients’ overall experience. They matched their findings with A&E departments in their area to look for correlations linking to the number of visits at A&E.

Lead author Dr Thomas Cowling said: ‘It makes sense to think that extending GP hours will ease the burden on other NHS services, but our study suggests this might not be the case with A&E.’

Pulse previously reported that NHS Mansfield and Ashfield CCG and NHS Newark and Sherwood CCG also saw ‘no immediate correlation between GP opening hours and the weighted rates of emergency department attendances’.

Last year, the Conservatives decided to bring forward the deadline for the universal seven-day GP access to 2019, after they made extended access a priority in their general election manifesto.

Last December, nine billion patients in London were told they could book evening and weekend GP appointments and NHS England said the measure ‘will also help manage pressures on urgent and emergency care services especially over the busy winter period.’

However, senior author of the study and practicing GP professor Azeem Majeed said that the government should look at finding alternatives to deal with the current pressures at A&Es.

He said: ‘For example, we could improve access to GP appointments during normal opening hours, instead of spending scarce NHS resources on extended opening schemes.’