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Higher GP numbers reduces emergency admissions in deprived areas, study finds


By Jess Hacker
11 March 2021

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Increasing the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs in deprived areas can lead to fewer emergency hospital admissions for local residents, a study has found.  

The study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, also found that emergency admissions were lower in areas where GPs are employed in larger practices, compared with otherwise similar areas with more smaller practices.

Dr Catia Nicodemo, an author of the study, told Healthcare Leader: ‘If you have two areas that are identical in all other ways (number of residents, age distribution of residents, medical status etc.) then you would expect more emergency hospital admissions if the same number of GPs was spread across several small practices than if they were concentrated into a lower number of large practices.’

The study did however find ‘little connection’ between the number of FTE GPs per head of population and emergency admissions in other, non-deprived areas.

Broader range of care  

The researchers suggested that boosting the number of full-time equivalent GPs in deprived areas could therefore lead to a drop in emergency hospital admissions.

They added that ‘clustering’ GPs into larger practices could ‘attract patients away from emergency care’, by offering a broader range of specialist care.

This would also allow for illness to be caught earlier before emergency care becomes necessary, the study said, in addition to increasing the number of rapid, unplanned appointments available to patients.

The study noted that as both the state of people’s health and use of health services vary with deprivation, then the relationship between numbers of GPs and the emergency admissions might also vary with deprivation.

‘For example, even within disease categories, patient use of emergency care tends to be greater in less deprived areas, suggesting that primary care may work differently in deprived areas,’ the report said.

The study analysed the number of GPs at former primary care trust level (drawn from 2004/5 to 2011/12 data), rather than at a local area level, but the authors said the data and findings remain ‘applicable to the situation now where the number of GPs has declined, and the population disease burden has increased’.

‘These findings may have helpful implications for policy towards fiscal incentives to encourage GPs to locate in deprived areas, and for addressing unmet demand for primary care,’ the researchers concluded.

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