Scrapping GP access targets could undermine efforts to reduce unnecessary accident and emergency attendances, research given to the Department of Health suggests.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley’s revised NHS operating framework removed the targets for access to a GP within 48 hours, and to a primary care professional within 24 hours.

But analysis for the department’s quality, innovation, productivity and prevention (QIPP) programme, seen by HSJ, has found many of those unnecessarily attending A&E do so because they have been refused access to primary care services.

Forty-two per cent of attendees said that they had attempted to contact their GP before coming to A&E but 30 per cent of those had “never got past the GP receptionist or the voicemail”.

The work, for primary care trusts in the South Central region, used social marketing techniques to identify groups who were at A&E for “non-urgent” reasons.

The largest group it found, accounting for 22 per cent of attendees, want a “one stop resolution” for their problem and find A&E “more convenient” because there is “no wait for appointment, [it is] always open, [they] can get everything resolved at once”.

Other groups went to A&E because they believed hospital was more dependable with more skilled staff than GPs.

The work concluded that improving “GP access and skills” was important to reducing admissions.

A senior primary care trust source said improving access would be more difficult without the targets.

The targets had also been used to improve productivity by encouraging GPs to see more patients.

The research was led by Michaela Firth, an adviser to the DH on the QIPP programme.

She told HSJ: “We need to look at alternative ways of improving access without the [48 hour] standard.”