Better GP access would cut A&E misuse

Better GP access would cut A&E misuse

 

A fifth of people admit to having used A&E despite knowing that they didn’t need emergency care, and a third say they’d attend A&E for a non-emergency out of hours, Healthwatch England reported this morning. The independent consumer champion – and partner of the Care Quality Commission – said that better access to GPs and improved signposting of services could help reduce pressure on emergency departments.

 

Healthwatch England commissioned a YouGov survey to find out people’s reasons for ending up in A&E, and how they got there. Of the 1762 respondents, a third said they didn’t know where to find their nearest minor injuries unit or NHS walk-in centre, or the services it provides. And, although four out five people were aware of NHS 111, only one in five had used it (or its predecessor NHS Direct) when they needed non-urgent care.

 

Healthwatch found that even though most respondents claimed they were concerned about the NHS’s ability to cope with the pressure on urgent and emergency care services, 18% admitted to having used A&E at some point in their lives for a non-emergency. Furthermore, one in four said they were likely to use A&E if they couldn’t get a GP appointment ‘in a reasonable timeframe’, and a third said they’d do so for a non-emergency outside GP opening hours.

 

An earlier survey, of attendees at East Sussex’s two A&E departments and three minor injuries units, had shown that more than half (51%) had gone straight to A&E without seeking help elsewhere – and few than a quarter even tried to contact their GP before going to hospital.

 

Healthwatch England said: “Despite the majority of respondents expressing concern about the NHS’s ability to cope with the pressure on urgent and emergency care, many of us will continue to use services how we want, when we want, until real alternatives are provided.”

 

Its chair Anna Bradley said: “Blaming people for going to the ‘wrong place’ when we need care and support is the wrong way of looking at the problem. I’m not absolving us of our responsibility not to clog A&E whenever we get the sniffles, but until the health and care sector offers a more consumer-friendly experience, things are unlikely to improve.”

 

Healthwatch called for the health and care system to “become more consumer-focused and develop new products and services to entice us elsewhere within the system”, to stop people from using A&E as a first resort.

 

But RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said that growing demand on general practice and a relative reduction in funding are getting in the way of GPs improving access for patients. She said: “General practice conducts 90% of NHS patient contacts, but funding for the sector has slumped to a record low – of just 8.39% of the NHS budget. This decrease in resources is leading to longer waiting times and compromising patient safety … 34 million requests for consultations with a GP will not be met this year.”

 

She insisted: “If the Government is serious about alleviating pressures on hospitals and providing more care in the community, then it must act now and urgently increase investment in general practice to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017.”

 

By Louise Prime

 

OnMedica, on Tuesday, 4 March 2014.

 

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