Patients in England are confused about where they should turn for medical care when GP surgeries are closed, according to new research from Which?.
Almost a third of people who had needed out of hours care in the last year went straight to an Accident and Emergency (A&E;) department.
However, awareness of services that can ease the burden on A&E; was low. Two in five people knew about NHS Walk-in Centres but only one in five knew that they could use Minor Injuries Units.
Just over half of people knew about NHS Direct and almost a third said they would be most likely to turn to it first for help.
Frances Blunden, Principal Policy Adviser at Which?, said: ‘Poor awareness of services that can help to take pressure away from overstretched hospital emergency departments means that people are still relying on A&E;, even when a different type of service would be more appropriate.
Serious medical consequences
‘Most people use out of hours services only occasionally and when they do they need a quick response and reassurance. Unfortunately, the current system means people often have to go through several stages to get the care they need and delays like this can have serious medical consequences, not to mention adding extra anxiety to an already stressful situation.’
Which? believes that if consumers’ out of hours needs are to be properly met in the future, they need to be provided with better information about their local services. Most importantly, this information needs to be available when and where people need it, to help them make the right choice.
Frances added: ‘Primary Care Trusts should also look at more flexible solutions, such as – where possible – locating out of hours primary care services with A&E; so that people can get appropriate care when and where they need it.’
The May edition of Which? Magazine contains details of different types of services where people can get out of hours care and how to access the appropriate treatment.