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Comparing care at walk-in centres and A&E

Press release issued: 22 March 2007

Patients can't always tell the difference between hospital walk-in centres and traditional emergency care departments – and even when they can, opportunities to exercise choice about their preferred care provider are often limited, according to research by Dr Melanie Chalder of the University of Bristol and colleagues.

In two papers, published today in Emergency Medicine Journal, the researchers explore the impact of walk-in centres on emergency departments and their effect on patient choice, preference and satisfaction.

The team surveyed just over 700 patients attending eight emergency care departments and eight walk-in centres located in hospital grounds.  Patients were asked about their treatment preferences and for their views on the treatment they had been given.

Most people, it seems, went to an emergency care department first, even when a walk-in centre was available in the hospital grounds and almost 80 per cent of those eventually seen at walk-in centres had been redirected there from emergency care departments.  55 per cent of patients visiting walk-in centres did not even realise that they were being treated in this kind of facility.

According to the research, there was no difference between the overall satisfaction expressed about either type of care, with 65 per cent of patients at both types of facility describing the care that they had received as being 'very good' or 'excellent'. 

Of those who actively chose to go to a walk-in centre, most thought they would be seen more quickly than if they went to A&E or because they thought it would be quicker than trying to get an appointment with their family doctor.

Melanie Chalder said: “The [government] policy aim of establishing walk-in centres to improve access to care appears to have been lost or subsumed by a more immediate demand to reduce A&E workload and waiting times.  There is no evidence from the data available that walk-in centres co-located with A&E departments have achieved the aim of increasing patient choice, preferences or satisfaction with care received.”


Further information

Papers: Comparing care at walk-in centres and at accident and emergency departments: an exploration of patient choice, preferences and satisfaction by Melanie Chalder, Alan Montgomery, Sandra Hollinghurst, Matthew Cooke, James Munro, Val Lattimer, Deborah Sharp, Chris Salisbury Emerg Med J 2007; 24: 260-4 The impact of co-located NHS walk-in centres on emergency departments by Chris Salisbury, Sandra Hollinghurst, Alan Montgomery, Matthew Cooke, James Munro, Deborah Sharp, Melanie Chalder; Emerg Med J 2007; 24: 265-269
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