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GP access a problem in the most deprived areas of the UK, study finds

People living in deprived areas are more likely to prefer A&E departments over their General Practitioner to get tests done quickly, find it more difficult to get an appointment with their GP and think A&E doctors are more knowledgeable than GPs.

This is the key finding of research into attitudes towards emergency care from the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey – carried out by The National Centre for Social Research.

Parents with children under 5 are most likely to have used an A&E in the last year, to think it is hard to get an appointment with their GP, less likely to trust their GP but are also more likely to use the internet to try to decide what the problem might be.

Men are less knowledgeable about how to contact a GP out of office hours and less likely to use the internet to research a health problem.

The population are fairly united in the belief that A&Es are overused; a clear majority (86%) think that too many people unnecessarily use A&E services.

Around half (51%) the population agrees that it is hard to get an appointment with a GP. Those with children under 5 (65%) and those living in the most deprived areas (59%) are most likely to agree.

17% of all Brits prefer A&Es to GPs because they can get tests done quickly. The figure rises to 29% when looking at people in the most deprived areas.

65% of the total population have confidence in GPs, while 11% state they do not have much confidence. This compares to 18% of those living in the most deprived areas, 16% of people with no qualifications and 20% of parents with a child aged under 5 who do not have much confidence.

Overall, just 19% of Brits agree that doctors at A&Es are more knowledgeable than GPs. However, this jumps to a third for those without any qualifications (32% compared with 14% of graduates) and 28% of those in the most deprived areas (compared with 15% living in the least deprived areas).

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said: “There’s no doubt that access to general practice has been deteriorating with the first sustained fall in the number of GPs per person for 50 years.

“Boris Johnson has made GP waits a top priority but we need to know in detail, given the dire GP workforce shortages, how this is realistically going to be turned around. It isn’t surprising to me that people living in deprived areas feel less sure of getting a GP appointment – they’re right.”

58% of people with internet access say they would look online to help understand a health problem, while 47% would use the internet to decide what to do about it. Nevertheless, substantial gaps between demographic groups exist, the research suggests.

Beccy Baird, Senior Fellow at the King’s Fund, added: “People living in deprived communities often have the most complex health needs, yet those same people find it hardest to access their GP.

“Digital tools can help improve access to NHS services for some groups, but many of the people who rely most on health and care services require face to face support or simply can’t get online to make use of digital services.”

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