Up to a fifth of people attending walk-in centres were diverted from an A&E, according to new research by an academic at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Edward Pinchbeck, a research officer with expertise in health economics, looked at the areas around walk-in centres before they opened and after. He looked at how many people attended an A&E before the centre opened and after. He found there was a reduction after the walk-in centre opened.
Between 10-20 per cent of patients were diverted from an A&E when a walk-in centre was located on the same site as an A&E. His research, shared with HSJ, also found that 5-10 per cent of patients were diverted when a walk-in centre was located nearby.
These centres are equipped to deal with minor ailments.
Mr Pinchbeck said centres appear to “significantly reduce” A&E attendances. He found that this effect was highest in A&Es closest to the centres and this effect falls with distance.
Between 2000 and 2010, 230 walk-in centres opened. However, since 2010 more than 50 have closed, according to a report by Monitor published last March.
Monitor found that some centres had agreed with ambulance services to receive their non-emergency patients directly.
However, Mr Pinchbeck said those diverted from A&E to the centres were mostly self-referred rather than having arrived by ambulance or through primary care.
The College of Emergency Medicine estimated last year that only 15-30 per cent of emergency attendances could have been dealt with by a GP instead.
Mr Pinchbeck said he decided to undertake the research because “quite a few centres were closing, seemingly without much evidence behind the decisions, while at the same time pressures were starting to build at A&Es, so this seemed a natural and important research avenue to explore”.
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He added that his findings seemed “plausible” because they are consistent with survey findings on walk-in centres.
In his paper, the academic wrote that in previous surveys “typically around a quarter of patients state that in the absence of the walk-in centre they would have attended an emergency department, a third would have attended a GP and a tenth would have self-treated”.
Mr Pinchbeck hopes his findings will add to the debate over how to reduce demand on A&Es.
He said: “The question for policymakers is whether facilities such as these are a cost effective way of reducing A&E attendances against alternative interventions; my hope is this research may inform this debate.”
Mr Pinchbeck mainly focused on the GP led health centres that opened around 2009, often referred to as “Darzi centres”, because there is more detailed information available for them.
This is a working paper and the results are yet to be fully peer reviewed.