Setting up out-of-hours GP services next to accident and emergency departments could help stem the flow of patients seeking urgent care in hospitals.

A joint report by The Patients Association and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine says the A&E brand in the UK is so strong that, in many cases, it renders re-direction of patients to other out-of-hours or urgent care services ineffective.

According to the report, Time to Act – Urgent Care and A&E: the Patient Perspective, co-locating GP out-of-hours services with A&E departments “allows patients to choose the A&E brand, decongests the emergency department and makes the best use of currently scarce out-of-hours GP resources”. 

The findings, which are based on a patient survey, also show that while patients are aware of alternatives to A&E, many still head there because they are unable to access help elsewhere or have been sent by another healthcare professional.

Fully informed 

This shows that the NHS must ensure patients are fully informed of all urgent care and out-of-hours services and that these services have sufficient capacity and are available when required. “Unless this issue is addressed, we will continue to see more pressure on an already overstretched A&E system,” which saw 14.6 million patients last year in England alone, the report authors warn.

Results from the latest GP Patient Survey also show that 45% of people don’t know how to access GP services out of hours. “Instead of moving towards having these services located within A&E departments, more needs to be done to raise awareness of them, so that patients know where to turn when they fall ill in the evenings or at weekends”, said Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.

“The College strongly supports integrated services and the need for new models of patient care, but decisions about which models are implemented and how need to be made in the best interests of the local population,” she added.