Children whose GPs are easy to access are less likely to visit A&E than those whose GPs are less able to provide appointments. These are the findings of a new study, led by researchers from Imperial College London, and published in the journal Pediatrics. The research also found that during weekdays, children’s visits to A&E peak after school hours.
The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health Research, suggests that modest changes in the provision of GP appointments – such as providing more after-school appointments between the times of 5-7pm – could prevent thousands of visits to emergency departments a year. Although the study does not show that difficulty in accessing GP services is the direct cause behind increased emergency admissions, it raises important questions about the provision of GP services.
The study’s lead author, Dr Sonia Saxena, from the Department of Primary Care and Public Health at Imperial College London, and a practising GP, says: “Use of emergency departments for problems that could be dealt with in primary care is an inefficient use of the service, and could detract resources from more seriously ill children. Our study was not a trial, which means that we don’t know whether difficulty accessing GPs is the cause of increased emergency department usage, or whether there is some other explanation for the link. However, given recent debates surrounding GP opening hours, our results suggest that additional resources to provide GP appointments for children when they need it – for instance after school rather than at weekends – may be a better investment for the NHS than blanket proposals to increase access hours.”