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.