Pressure on GPs forces more than 5m patients a year to turn to A&E

GP leaders have warned that data showing more than 5m patients a year visit A&E because GP appointments are unavailable is evidence of a growing crisis in primary care.

Dr Maureen Baker: A&E findings reveal pressure on GPs
Dr Maureen Baker: A&E findings reveal pressure on GPs

Around 5.77m patients attended A&E in 2012/13 because they could not obtain a convenient appointment at their GP, according to researchers at Imperial College London.

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said the findings showed that general practice faces unsustainable demand.

‘Every patient should be able to see their family doctor when they need to, and GPs want to provide the best possible access and high quality care for all their patients,' she said.

‘But this research is further evidence of the crisis in general practice, with family doctors heaving under the strain of rocketing patient demand, due to a growing and ageing population, and plummeting investment.’

The annual number of unplanned attendances at A&E departments increased by 11% from 2008/9 to 2012/13, the research found. Over the same period, the number of general practice consultations saw a slightly larger increase of 12%.

'Urgent action' needed in general practice

Evidence has previously shown that patients registered at readily-accessible practices, with ‘more timely’ access to primary care, tend to have lower rates of A&E attendance.

Dr Baker added that GPs do a ‘remarkable job’ treating patients in the community, and the study failed to highlight that many walk-in centres – which were included in the A&E visit figures – are staffed by GPs.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey called for ‘urgent action’ from politicians. ‘We need politicians to realise that there needs to be long-term, sustained investment in GP services, including an expansion in the number of GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals working in the community. This is not a problem that is going away, we need urgent action.’

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, analysed data from the GP Patient Survey and the number of general practice consultations from 2000 to 2009, and estimated figures for 2012/13 by extrapolating this data.

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