Longer GP hours ‘unlikely to ease burden on emergency departments’

Researchers suggest government should focus on improving access to GP appointments during normal opening hours rather than extending opening hours
GP hours

Longer GP surgery opening hours will not reduce visits to emergency departments, a study has suggested.

Satisfaction with GP opening hours and overall patient experience seemed to have no impact on visits to A&E, researchers say.  Picture: iStock

Researchers at Imperial College London found no overall link between satisfaction with GP opening hours and the number of visits to emergency departments in England, according to the study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. 

But they found that where patients were happier with the ease of making appointments, for example via online booking systems, there were slightly fewer emergency department attendances.

No link with patient satisfaction

The researchers suggest the government’s proposal to extend GP surgery hours would be unlikely to ease the burden on emergency departments, which saw almost 1.9 million more attendances in 2016-17 than in 2011-12 – the equivalent of 5,100 more each day.

The researchers looked at patients' experiences of GP surgeries and the number of emergency department visits in their area in England from 2011-12 to 2013-14.

They examined reports from NHS England's annual GP Patient Survey, and included patients registered at 8,124 GP surgeries.

Levels of patient satisfaction were measured using three factors: the ease of making an appointment, opening hours and overall experience.

When comparing these responses with emergency department attendance rates in their area, the researchers found that satisfaction with surgery opening hours and overall patient experience seemed to have no impact on emergency department visits.

Improved, not extended, access

Senior study author Azeem Majeed, from Imperial College London's school of public health, said: 'The government must find alternative ways to handle current pressures on A&E departments.

'This could include, for example, improving access to GP appointments during normal opening hours rather than spending scarce NHS resources on extended opening schemes.'

His colleague, lead author Thomas Cowling added: 'It makes sense to think that extending GP hours will ease the burden on other NHS services, but our study suggests this might not be the case with A&E.'

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