Seven-day GP surgery pilot leads to fall in A&E visits

Fewer older people visit A&E as government trial seven-day GP surgery service
seven-day GP surgery pilot scheme

The number of visits to A&E have dropped since the launch of a government pilot to open GP surgeries seven days a week.

Weekend visits to A&E fell by 18% and by 10% across the week among patients of four pilot surgeries in central London.

A&E hospital admissions at weekends also dipped by 10%, and ambulance usage was down by 20%.

Each of the four surgeries assessed by researchers had a GP, nurse and two receptionists to cover the extra hours over the weekend.

Drop in numbers

The researchers from the University of Sussex analysed emergency department (ED) attendance data between April 2009 and February 2014. They say the drop in numbers was mainly due to fewer older patients attending A&E with moderate injuries or illnesses, and not as the government had expected by minor cases being diverted there.

The pilot schemes for the seven-day service were announced in 2013 through the prime minister’s Challenge Fund to help improve patient access to general practice. 

The following year, the government pledged to provide seven-day GP services throughout England by 2020.

On the safe side

The researchers believe GPs have good knowledge of their patients’ medical histories and may send less serious cases home following treatment compared to A&E doctors who may choose to admit them to hospital to be ‘on the safe side’.

They said their findings, published in the Journal of Health Economics, are of importance ‘given the mounting crisis at A&E units across the UK and the heated political debate on the best way to tackle this crisis’.

ED attendances rose from 16.6 million in 2003-04 to 21.7 million in 2013-14. Each A&E visit costs the NHS £114 compared to £45 for the average GP visit.

Further information:

Journal of Health Economics report: Can increased primary care access reduce demand for emergency care? Evidence from England's 7-day GP opening