University of Sussex
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Effect of introduction of integrated out of hours care in England: observational study

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 14:49 authored by Val Lattimer, Joanne Turnbull, Abigail Burgess, Heidi Surridge, Karen Gerard, Judith Lathlean, Helen Smith, Steve George
Objectives: To quantify service integration achieved in the national exemplar programme for single call access to out of hours care through NHS Direct, and its effect on the wider health system. Design: Observational before and after study of demand, activity, and trends in the use of other health services. Participants: 34 general practice cooperatives with NHS Direct partners (exemplars): four were case exemplars; 10 control cooperatives. Setting: England. Main outcome measures: Extent of integration; changes in demand, activity, and trends in emergency ambulance transports; attendances at emergency departments, minor injuries units, and NHS walk-in centres; and emergency admissions to hospital in the first year. Results: Of 31 distinct exemplars, 21 (68%) integrated all out of hours call management. Nine (29%) achieved single call access for all patients. In the only case exemplar where direct comparison was possible, a higher proportion of telephone calls were handled by cooperative nurses before integration than by NHS Direct afterwards (2622/6687 (39%) v 2092/7086 (30%): P < 0.0001). Other case exemplars did not achieve 30%. A small but significant downturn in overall demand for care seen in two case exemplars was also seen in the control cooperatives. The number of emergency ambulance transports increased in three of the four case exemplars after integration, reaching statistical significance in two (5%, -0.02% to 10%, P = 0.06; 6%, 1% to 12%, P = 0.02; 7%, 3% to 12%, P = 0.001). This was always accompanied by a significant reduction in the number of calls to the integrated service. Conclusion: Most exemplars achieved integration of call management but not single call access for patients. Most patients made at least two telephone calls to contact NHS Direct, and then waited for a nurse to call back. Evidence for transfer of demand from case exemplars to 999 ambulance services may be amenable to change, but NHS Direct may not have sufficient capacity to support national implementation of the programme.


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