UK & World News
A&E 'Burdened By Millions Of GP Patients'
As many as 5.77 million visits to A&E departments in England are a result of patients not being able to see their GP, research suggests.
For a long time, A&E doctors have pointed to migration from GPs as a major contributor to an increase in patients in emergency wards.
By analysing data from England in 2012/13, experts from Imperial College London say that for every 100 patients who tried to get an appointment at their local GP surgery, an average of 1.67 resorted to attending an emergency department instead.
They estimate this figure would equate to 5.77 million A&E visits - or 26.5% of unplanned visits during this time frame.
Recent figures from NHS England show that around 450,000 people attend A&E every week.
Thomas Cowling, a National Institute for Health Research doctoral research fellow at Imperial College London, said: "There has been a lot of talk in recent years about rising numbers of attendances at A&E and the impact that this might be having on A&E departments.
"It has been suggested that a lack of access to GPs could be a factor but there hasn't been much evidence to back this up. Our research has provided a helpful indication of the situation, but we acknowledge the uncertainty present in the estimates."
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "Every patient should be able to see their family doctor when they need to, and GPs want to provide the best possible access and high-quality care for all their patients.
"But this research is further evidence of the crisis in General Practice, with family doctors heaving under the strain of rocketing patient demand, due to a growing and ageing population, and plummeting investment."
But the College of Emergency Medicine has questioned the findings.
College president Dr Clifford Mann said: "In our experience most patients we see have made the right call in coming to A&E.
"We recently conducted our own research and found that 15% of patients who attended could be safely redirected to their GP.
"This is less than the number estimated in the research by Imperial College but still represents 2.1 million patients per year.
"It is therefore unarguable that a significant number of patients could be seen elsewhere if that capacity existed."
The British Medical Association recently warned that two-week waits for routine appointments with family doctors could soon become commonplace.