Significant hospital savings could result from ensuring patients see the doctor of their choice when they visit their GP, latest research findings suggest.

Practices with more patients who are able to consult a GP of their choice have fewer elective hospital admissions, according to a study in the East Midlands

The authors of the study in the Journal of Public Health suggest increased continuity of primary care could lead to significant savings for commissioners. But they highlight that “changes in the health system in recent years have tended to reduce continuity”.

The researchers, from Leicester University, examined data for 2006-07 and 2007-08, during which the cost per non-emergency hospital admission was £2,641 and £2,892, respectively.

They compared this with referral data and survey results for the same period from 145 practices across two primary care trust areas, NHS Leicester City, and NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland.

The researchers found a 1 per cent increase in the proportion of patients able to see a particular doctor was associated with 7.6 fewer elective admissions per year in 2006-07 and 3.1 fewer in 2007-08. These figures were for an average practice with a list size of around 6,000 patients.

This would be associated with savings in elective admission costs of £8,965-£20,071 a year per average practice. 

Study author Richard Baker, director of the university’s department of health sciences, said HSJ the association might be explained by continuity of care enabling “decisions on not referring to be more readily made”.

He said: “Examples might be, ‘we agree that we don’t really need to worry about this, or we agree there is not much that can be done to make a difference for this’.

“When patient and doctor don’t know each other so well, or have so much confidence in each other, a referral can seem the best option,” he said.