Northampton GP receptionists needlessly send equivalent of 2,600 patients a year to A&E

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A large number of non-emergency patients are wrongly being sent to A&E by Northampton GP surgeries, particularly receptionists, a report by NGH suggests.

The report is based on a survey conducted at Northampton General Hospital accident and emergency department over a 24 hour period, which found that a high percentage of those who should not have been there were sent by the GP, a surgery receptionist or the 111 service.

Rachel Lovesy, head of patient experience at NGH, said: “A large number of patients... had attempted to, or had managed to, speak to a healthcare professional prior to coming to A&E.

“Of those that were advised to attend, a concerning amount were identified as potentially being inappropriate attendees, with conditions and concerns that could have been dealt with elsewhere.”

A third of patients asked who should have been treated in the community, had been sent by a GP first, and 46 per cent had been advised to go to A&E by an NHS 111 telephone operative.

On the day in question alone, 10 patients attended after speaking to a GP surgery receptionist. If this is being repeated every week day, the report says, there could be an extra 2,607 patients a year needlessly visiting A&E as a direct result of receptionists.

Mrs Lovesy said: “The comments made by patients throughout the survey indicate some issues with gaining access to the GP surgery.

“It is evident that GP receptionists hold some power in this situation , acting as gatekeepers to accessing a healthcare professional.”

The report identified a number of “concerning factors” with regards to patients’ A&E attendance which, if improved, could reduce the workload of nurses and doctors.

One such suggested improvement was “prevention of GP receptionists advising patients to attend A&E or giving A&E as the alternative when there are no GP appointments available.”

In total, 17 patients surveyed had been wrongly referred to A&E by a GP surgery. Two surgeries had sent a pair of patients each - Abbey Medical Centre and Beech Avenue Surgery.

Of these four patients, three had been told to go to A&E by the GP and one had spoken to the GP reception and had been advised there were no appointments that day.

Mrs Lovesy said it is not clear yet whether patients are being needlessly sent by their GP to A&E to ease pressures on the surgery.

She said: “Telephone conversations - as opposed to face-to-face consultations - led to 64 per cent of patients being told to attend A&E when they could have been seen within a primary care setting.

“It would be difficult to determine the motivations behind this without conducting a further project.”

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