OVER 85 per cent of the UK population believe that A&E services are overused, while just over half agree that it is hard to get an appointment with a GP, according research carried out by The National Centre for Social Research from the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey.
The figures reveal that a clear majority (86 per cent) of the population think that too many people use A&E services unnecessarily, and this increases to 94 per cent for people aged 65 to 74 years old. Just under a third (32 per cent) said they had accessed A&E services at least once in the previous 12 months for themselves or others, with figure rising to 54 per cent among parents with a child under age 5.
Around half (51 per cent) the population agrees that it is hard to get an appointment with a GP, and those with children under 5 (65 per cent) and those living in the most deprived areas (59 per cent) are most likely to agree. A surprising percentage (17 per cent) of UK patients prefer A&Es to GP surgeries because they can get tests done quickly, and the figure rises to 29 per cent in the most deprived areas.
Attitudes on the use of digital health resources vary significantly among population segments, with 58 per cent of people with internet access saying they would look online to help understand a health problem and 47 per cent using the internet to decide what to do about it. Young people aged 18 to 24 are twice as likely (62 per cent) to research health problems online than those aged 75 and over (30 per cent).
Commenting on the research, Alicia O'Cathain, Director of the Medical Care Research Unit at the University of Sheffield*, said: "Today's findings illustrate that while the majority of the British population are satisfied with A&E services, there are marked differences in attitudes and understanding between different social groups when it comes to views on access and confidence in A&Es and GPs. This may contribute to the over-use of critical emergency care functions.
"It's clear that there are lessons in these findings which will help government to better understand and support those least confident in using health services and shape policy moving forward."
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: "We understand our patients' frustrations when they cannot secure a GP appointment when they need one, and GPs and our teams share their concerns.
"However, patients should only ever go to A&E in an emergency – if they need to see a GP urgently, they should always be able to through our routine service, urgent treatment centres, and the GP out of hours service. We are working incredibly hard to ensure this happens, and this is reflected in the most recent NHS figures.”
Ruth Thorlby, Assistant Director of Policy at the Health Foundation, said: "We already know that patients across the country are finding it harder to access general practice as a result of major shortages of GPs. But it is notable that those in the poorest areas report greater problems – our analysis found that a GP in the most deprived areas will be responsible for 370 more patients than one working in the least deprived.
"The Prime Minister has made a clear pledge to address these issues but the scale of the workforce challenge presents a major hurdle and any solution must tackle the inequalities that currently exist in primary care."