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5.8 Million A&E Visits Occur After Patients Unable To See a GP

Update Date: Jun 30, 2014 10:15 AM EDT

In 2012-2013, there were 5.77 million A&E attendances in England that were preceded by an inability to get a timely GP appointment, according to a new study. 

The study added that unplanned attendances at accident and emergency (A&E) departments in England have increased by 11 per cent between years 2008-2009 and 2012-2013. Reviews suggested that a reason for some attendances is that people who cannot obtain a GP appointment or one they consider timely visit A&E as an alternative. 

The study is first to provide figures on the frequency with which this might occur. 

"There has been a lot of talk in recent years about rising numbers of A&E attendances and the impact that this might be having on A&E departments. It has been suggested that a lack of access to GPs could be a factor but there hasn't been much evidence to back this up. The aim of this analysis was to inform the debate; until now, the numerical scale of the problem hadn't been estimated," said lead researcher, Thomas Cowling, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, in the press release.

"Our research has provided a helpful indication of the situation, but we acknowledge the uncertainty present in the estimates. The approach we used was relatively straightforward and the only feasible way to get an overall national estimate that could inform policy in a timely manner. A more detailed picture could be obtained from a survey of a nationally representative sample of patients attending A&E. In addition, the benefits of increasing access to GPs could, and should, be assessed by evaluations of current pilots that aim to improve GP access."

The study is published in the British Journal of General Practice. 

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