RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard has responded to calls for GP surgeries to be co-located in A&E departments, warning that this could come with the danger of encouraging patients to use A&E as their first port of call.
She was responding to a widely reported Press Association survey which showed 61% of GPs and secondary care doctors think that GPs need to be on hand in A&E to deal with patients who turn up inappropriately.
The survey of 500 doctors found that three quarters (75%) believe patients go to A&E without needing to because they think they will be seen faster, and some 60% said expanding GP services was the solution, according to reports.
But Professor Stokes-Lampard argued that ‘the best place for GPs is in their surgeries caring for their patients close to their homes in their own communities’.
She said that there was ‘the risk that any expansion of programmes using GPs at the front end of hospitals might have the opposite effect to what is intended and encourage patients to use emergency departments as a first port of call for minor illnesses’.
She added: ‘GPs are already working flat out and preventing thousands of inappropriate hospital admissions every day… The real solution lies in more investment in general practice and boosting the GP workforce so that we can provide more services in the community closer to people’s homes.’
NHS England is already piloting placing GPs in A&E departments as part of eight urgent care ‘vanguards’ – first announced as part of the NHS Five Year Forward View in 2014.
But a study published last year found that co-locating GPs in urgent care settings increases patient demand, and the set-up costs are far greater than the marginal savings made. The researchers from the University of Sheffield concluded that ‘if you build it, they will come’.