CREDIT: This story was first seen on the BMA website
An honest debate about the disparity in NHS funding and resourcing and what services can realistically be provided is needed, the findings of a BMA-commissioned study suggest.
Research into attendances to urgent care services conducted by the University of Sheffield has highlighted how many patients view emergency departments as a first resort, leading to an exacerbation of existing financial and staffing pressures on the wider health service.
Commissioned by the BMA, the study is based on figures for urgent care attendances across Yorkshire and the Humber during 2014, as well as a survey of nearly 500 patients and interviews with staff carried out last year.
As part of the study, patients were quizzed on their awareness of alternatives to attending urgent care departments, such as OOH (out-of-hours) GPs, walk-in clinics and minor injury units, and compared these to figures sampled in 2006.
The study found that although awareness of alternative services was higher than it had been 10 years ago, the perceived appropriateness of these services was now mostly lower among patients than it had been a decade before.
BMA consultants committee emergency medicine lead Simon Walsh said the survey highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by primary and secondary care, and the need for more investment in the urgent care system as a whole.
He added that he believed there was often uncertainty among patients as to what kind of care alternative services could offer them, leading to many opting instead to visit emergency departments.
He said: ‘The Government has spent considerable energy and resources on trying to reduce unnecessary attendances at A&E and this study shows that this simply does not work.
‘People are aware they will be seen and discharged within four hours and that’s quite an attractive option – whether or not it’s a health emergency.
‘It’s also clear from this study that people are aware of the alternative services available for less urgent problems; but they still choose to attend A&E because they believe that their problem will be sorted out efficiently there.’
Among the other key findings of research were that around 31 per cent of attendances to urgent care services for children and 23 per cent among adults were classified as unnecessary.
On all days of the week such attendances peaked during OOH periods such as the early hours of the morning.
The study found that although 35% of patients said they had been advised by their GP practice to attend urgent care, the data did not determine how many of these would have counted as appropriate referrals.