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Why do patients attend GP-led urgent care centres rather than their own general practice?

In a paper published in the Emergency Medical Journal, my colleagues and I investigated why patients with 'minor; illnesses choose to attend a GP-led urgent care centre rather than their own general practice. The demand for urgent care is increasing, and the pressure on emergency departments is a significant concern for the NHS. General practitioner (GP)-led urgent care centres are a new model of care developed to divert patients from emergency departments to more appropriate primary care environments.

We administered a self-completed questionnaire among patients aged 18 years or over (N=649) who were triaged with a ‘minor illness’ on arrival to an urgent care centre, co-located with an emergency department in London. We found that the median age of patients was 29 years. 58% of patients attending the centre with minor illness during the study period took part. 72% of participants were registered with a GP; more women (59%) attended than men; and the majority of participants rated themselves as healthy (81%). Access to care (58%) was a key reason for using the service as was expectation of receiving prescription medication (69%). GP dissatisfaction influenced 10% of participants in their decision to attend. 68% did not contact their GP in the previous 24 hours before attending the urgent care centre.

We concluded that the GP-led urgent care centre was similar to walk in centres in attracting healthy young adults, who were mostly registered with a GP and used services because of convenience and ease of access rather than satisfaction levels with their GP. This group may benefit from being seen as part of routine general practice care to provide opportunities for education and promotion of self-management.

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