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Br J Gen Pract. 2001 Aug;51(469):625-9.

General practice out-of-hours service, variations in use and equality in access to a doctor: a cross-sectional study.

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  • 1Health and Social Care Research Unit, Queen's University Belfast, Mulhouse Building, Grosvenor Road, Belfast BT12 6BJ.



There is increasing dissatisfaction among general practitioners (GPs) with their 24 hour commitment despite the demand for GP services outside ordinary working hours. The creation of out-of-hours co-operatives has been welcomed by participating GPs and their families and patient satisfaction is generally high. However, there have been concerns about the lack of patient consultation in their development and on the quality of care provided.


To examine geographical variation in the rates of out-of-hours calls and to see if there is any systematic variation in how the co-operative that covers the area responds to calls.


A secondary data analysis of 110,357 calls received by the co-operative during the second year of its operation.


A co-operative with four centres providing out-of-hours care for one mostly rural Health Board in Northern Ireland.


Deprivation score and mortality and long-term illness ratios provided indicators of need at an area level. Proximity to the four co-operative centres was measured as the distance in kilometres and estimated travel time (in minutes) along the road network.


Out-of-hours call ratios were proportional to the area deprivation score and proximity to the co-operative centres, though not to area indicators of ill health. Older patients were more likely to be seen by the GP and females over the age of 15 years were more likely to receive telephone advice only (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 0.785, 95% confidence intervals [CI] 0.756-0.816, P < 0.001). Each kilometre from the centres reduced the likelihood of seeing the GP (OR = 0.978, 95% CI = 0.976-0.979, P < 0.001). Even after controlling for potential confounders a large difference remained in how centres responded to calls.


It is not certain whether these inequalities in services delivery represent inequity as the apposite level or type of response cannot be determined until more is known about the appropriateness of the demand for out-of-hours medical care.

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