Headlines: March 9th, 2007



Researchers have found no evidence that National Health Service walk-in centres have an impact on the length of time that patients wait to see a GP. The study, published today in the BMJ, says findings so far are also inconclusive on the issue of whether the centres actually increase demand rather that reducing the workload for primary care.

Today’s report follows a 21-month study involving more than 2,500 GP surgeries and 32 NHS walk-in centres within three kilometres of at least one of the doctor’s practices. The researchers, led by Dr Ravi Maheswaran, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Public Health Medicine at the University of Sheffield, say the NHS centres are primarily nurse-led, have longer opening hours and provide information and treatment for minor conditions without the need for appointments. One of their aims was to relieve pressure on access to primary care by freeing up time during normal surgery hours for patients who needed to see their family doctor.

Their research found that while there was a clear increase during the time of the study in the percentage of practices that met the Government’s target of a waiting time of less than 48 hours to see a GP, there was no evidence that walk-in centres contributed to shorter waiting times. In fact, waiting times were longer in more deprived areas and shorter in larger practices.

“We found no evidence that walk-in centres shortened primary care access waiting times and our study does not support the use of walk-in centres for this purpose,” the researchers say. Their findings are in line with those in a previous study that found a single walk-in centre had no effect on workload or waiting times in nearby practices.

The team believes there may be a number of explanations for the apparent lack of impact, including the fact that walk-in centres may have created more demand by seeing patients who would not otherwise sought health care. Alternatively, they say, there may have been duplication of services caused by patients being referred back to their GPs.