A&E pressures not down to GP access, study finds

DIFFICULTY in accessing a GP does not lead to increased use of hospital accident and emergency services, according to new research.

Factors such as multiple long-term conditions, smoking and being housebound were more significant in predicting A&E attendance. And the more frequently someone consults their GP, the more they are likely to visit A&E.

The findings emerged in a study by Queen Mary University of London which was published in the British Journal of General Practice. Researchers analysed primary care demographic, consultation, diagnostic, and clinical data and linked it with A&E attendance data for more than 800,000 patients in London.

Increasing pressure on A&E resources is often linked to difficulties in accessing GP care. But the study concluded: “[T]he burden of multimorbidity is the strongest clinical predictor of ED attendance, which is independently associated with social deprivation. Low use of the GP surgery is associated with low attendance at ED. Unlike other studies, the authors found that adult patient experience of GP access, reported at practice level, did not predict use.”

Patients with more severe and complex mental and physical health problems, and those from more socially deprived neighbourhoods, were found to be the heaviest users of emergency hospital services.

Commenting on the findings, Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “General practice makes the vast majority of patient contacts in the NHS and by doing so we alleviate pressures on emergency departments, we don't add to them – this research backs this up with important new data.”

She urged patients to only use A&E services in a genuine emergency, adding: “It is also clear from this research that we need better messaging for the public as to the different medical services available to them, within routine working hours and out, so that our patients know the most appropriate place to turn when they become sick.”

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