Walk-in centres duplicate GP care

A study that showed that walk-in centres extend care that GPs offer at their surgeries has been welcomed by the DoH.

The study of access to primary care in 2,509 surgeries found that being within 3km of a walk-in centre had no effect on waiting times for a GP appointment.

The researchers from the School of Health and Related Research at Sheffield University concluded in the BMJ that walk-in centres ‘may extend and potentially duplicate’ GP care.

The DoH welcomed the findings, saying that the centres ‘attracted patients who would not have otherwise visited a GP’.

This was ‘exactly our intention’ because people fit in accessing healthcare around their daily lives, a spokesman said.

The study’s lead researcher Dr Ravi Maheswaran, a public health doctor, said the conclusion ‘leads into the government’s choice agenda’.

The research team said they might see an association between shorter waiting times and a walk-in centre opening up within 3km of a GP’s surgery.

But they showed that while 48-hour-access achievements improved from 67 per cent to 87 per cent of practices over the study’s 21 months, proximity to a walk-in centre had no impact on this.

The lack of any effect led the researchers to conclude that walk-in centres should not be used to shorten waiting times to access primary care.

Research from the walk-in centres evaluation unit at Bristol University in 2003 found a trend suggesting that walk-in centres might moderate the increasing consultation rate at nearby general practices. Walk-in centres were launched by prime minister Tony Blair in 1999 to provide convenient access to treatment.

Since 2004, when John Hutton, then health minister, announced an investment of £12 million to bring the total number of walk-in centres in England to 82, the development of centres has been devolved to local trusts.

The DoH said walk-in centres now see 120 patients a day, about as many patients as the average general practice, and offer extended opening times.

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