More than 100,000 accident and emergency visits a year could be avoided if patients had quicker access to GP appointments, new research has shown.
The first study of its kind found that patients who were able to see a GP with the shortest delay were far less likely to seek medical attention at their local AE department.
Hospitals are under serious strain from a year-on-year rise in patients going to accident and emergency departments.
Recent figures from the King’s Fund charity showed more than 300,000 patients waited longer than the Government’s four-hour target time for treatment in the first three months of this year – 40% more than the same period last year.
But the new research by Imperial College London suggests patients with the quickest access to their GP were 10% less likely to go to their local AE unit.
If patients across England were able to see a GP with a minimal wait, there would be 111,739 fewer visits a year to casualty, according to figures published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Lead researcher Thomas Cowling told Sky News that many patients want the kind of service they now expect in other walks of life.
He said: “I would suggest it grows out of a sense of consumerism in the population.
“And that may just be a sign of the times, so people are growing up attending to their wants rather than their needs.
“The problem seems to be slightly greater in the young than the old and that may reflect different patterns in health beliefs and health-seeking behaviour.”
At Parkbury House surgery in St Albans, GPs have introduced a new rapid-access system.
Patients who ring in are called back by a GP within the hour – and those who need a face-to-face appointment are usually seen the same day.
One of the doctors, Steve Laitner, said the system, designed with the help of the group Patient Access is so efficient it reduces pressure on the whole NHS.
He told Sky News: “It’s safer, it’s a better experience for patients and a better use of resources – not just in primary care but across the system including AE.”
But Dr Lawrence Buckman, head of the GP committee at the British Medical Association, said doctors are already flat out and cannot speed up waiting times for appointments.
“Access can never be as good as every patient wants, because I can only see one person at time,” he said.
“The only way to increase access is to increase the number of people in general practice. There aren’t the resources in society to pay for that facility.”
The Department of Health is currently looking at ways of easing the pressure on NHS emergency services and improving access to GPs is likely to feature in its plans.
Article source: http://news.sky.com/story/1102918