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Call to use GPs to ease pressure on emergency departments

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A debate has erupted in the United Kingdom over calls for GPs to be rostered on after hours and at weekends in public hospital emergency departments.

The UK’s College of Emergency Medicine has proposed that all emergency departments have an out-of-hours primary care facility staffed by GPs to help ease the pressure on stretched hospital workers.

The idea has been backed by colleges representing surgeons, physicians and paediatricians amid concerns that existing out-of-hours GP services are not meeting patient needs, causing people to instead go the local public hospital for treatment of what are often relatively minor ailments.

But the British Medical Association warned that the proposal did not take account of the shortage of GPs and risked exacerbating problems around patient access to care.

Chair of the BMA’s General Practice committee, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told The Guardian there were already insufficient numbers of GPs in many areas of the country, which would make it difficult to staff such out-of-hours clinics, and could compromise the access of patients to existing services.

Dr Nagpaul said many primary health services were already struggling to meet patient need because of an inadequate number GPs, and the situation was only likely to get worse because of problems attracting people into the GP specialty and the fact many GPs were considering early retirement.

“If significant numbers of GPs were to work in [accident and emergency departments] rather than GP surgeries, this would contribute to these problems, and could lead to patients not receiving the care they need in the community.”

Adrian Rollins