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Seven-day GPs reduce emergency department attendances

Extended GP services have had an impact

The number of visits to emergency departments (EDs) has dropped since the launch of a government pilot to open GP surgeries seven days a week.

Weekend visits to EDs fell by 18% and week visits by 10% at four pilot surgeries in central London. ED 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.

Challenge Fund

Researchers from the University of Sussex analysed ED attendance data between April 2009 and February 2014. They say the drop in numbers was mainly due to fewer older patients with moderate injuries or illnesses attending EDs.

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.

Medical histories

The researchers believe GPs have good knowledge of their patients’ medical histories and may send less serious cases home following treatment compared with ED doctors who may 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 EDs 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 ED visit costs the NHS £114 compared with £45 for the average GP visit.

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