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Integrated out-of-hours care arrangements in England: observational study of progress towards single call access via NHS Direct and impact on the wider health system

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:16 authored by V Lattimer, J Turnball, S George, A Burgess, H Surridge, K Gerard, J Lathlean, H Smith
Objectives: To assess the extent of service integration achieved within general practice cooperatives and NHS Direct sites participating in the Department of Health’s national “Exemplar Programme” for single call access to out-of-hours care via NHS Direct. To assess the impact of integrated out-of-hours care arrangements upon general practice cooperatives and the wider health system (use of emergency departments, 999 ambulance services, and minor injuries units). Design: Observational before and after study of demand, activity, and trends in the use of other health services. Setting: Thirty four English general practice cooperatives with NHS Direct partners (“exemplars”) of which four acted as “case exemplars”. Also 10 control cooperatives for comparison. Main Outcome Measures: Extent of integration achieved (defined as the proportion of hours and the proportion of general practice patients covered by integrated arrangements), patterns of general practice cooperative demand and activity and trends in use of the wider health system in the first year. Results: Of 31 distinct exemplars 21 (68%) integrated all out-of-hours call management by March 2004. Nine (29%) established single call access for all patients. In the only case exemplar where direct comparison was possible, cooperative nurse telephone triage before integration completed a higher proportion of calls with telephone advice than did NHS Direct afterwards (39% v 30%; p<0.0001). The proportion of calls completed by NHS Direct telephone advice at other sites was lower. There is evidence for transfer of demand from case exemplars to 999 ambulance services. A downturn in overall demand for care seen in two case exemplars was also seen in control sites. Conclusion: The new model of out-of-hours care was implemented in a variety of settings across England by new partnerships between general practice cooperatives and NHS Direct. Single call access was not widely implemented and most patients needed to make at least two telephone calls to contact the service. In the first year, integration may have produced some reduction in total demand, but this may have been accompanied by shifts from one part of the local health system to another. NHS Direct demonstrated capability in handling calls but may not currently have sufficient capacity to support national implementation.


Publication status

  • Published

Article number


Event name

The Society for Social Medicine 49th Annual Scientific Meeting

Event location

University of Glasgow, UK

Event type


Event date

14-16 September 2005

Department affiliated with

  • BSMS Publications

Full text available

  • Yes

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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