Lack of GP appointments prompted almost 2 million A&E visits last year

Lack of GP appointments prompted almost 2 million A&E visits last year

As many as 1.88 million people alone have visited A&E in the past 12 months because they couldn’t get a GP appointment, suggests a new online survey commissioned by Network Locum.

Over 2043 British adults, aged 18+, were surveyed online by YouGov on behalf of Network Locum earlier this month. The responses showed that just over one in three (34%) of people who asked for an appointment as soon as possible in the past 12 months had to wait for over 48 hours to be seen. And 4% admitted going to A&E when they weren’t able to get a GP appointment.

With the average A&E visit costing the NHS £88, this behaviour may have cost the NHS as much as £120 million in a single year, says Network Locum, based on population figures, and the difference in average costs between a GP and A&E visit.

The survey findings also suggest that the lack of GP appointments might be putting people off visiting their local doctor altogether. 

Just over one in six (18%) women respondents delayed booking an appointment because they were worried that they would be wasting their GP’s time. And one in four admitted that they had stored up a number of concerns to discuss in one GP visit.

Just over one in 10 people (13%) “self-diagnosed” and bought available medication in a pharmacy because they could not get a doctor’s appointment.

Dr Anita Nathan, a practising locum GP in London, comments: “I am concerned that so many people are putting off seeing their GP and would urge them to make best use of consultations to serve their needs.

It’s not in a patient’s interest to store up problems for a future consultation and it’s hard for us to be thorough when there are too many concerns. We need to make sure that all patients feel that GP practices and doctors are approachable so we don’t miss any potentially serious diagnoses.”

She suggested that getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy, which takes up 10% of a typical GP’s day, such as admin errors and refaxing referrals, could free up valuable time to reach the people who need to see their GP.

Melissa Morris, CEO of Network Locum comments: “It’s very worrying that people have to wait over 48 hours to be seen when they feel they need to see a doctor urgently. We need to look at improved funding for GP practices, extended surgery hours and flexible staffing models that can help GP practices meet the demand from their local community.”

Just under one in five respondents (19%) said they would be prepared to pay for a guaranteed appointment on the same day and over half (52%) would be prepared to have an online consultation with a GP.

Nearly a quarter (24%) said that they would use an online video call such as Skype to discuss their symptoms and would only go to see a GP if it was absolutely necessary. A further 17% would use this service only when they had no symptoms to discuss and wanted general advice or regular prescriptions.

Morris concludes: “People are prepared to do things differently but the question is, does the NHS have the flexibility to keep up with them? Paid-for appointments could add a much-needed revenue stream to the NHS and virtual appointments could ease the pressure on surgeries, freeing up funds and face-to-face appointments for the people that need them most.”

By Caroline White

OnMedica, 28th November 2013

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