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Br J Gen Pract. 2003 Jan;53(486):53-9.

Walk-in centres in primary care: a review of the international literature.

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Division of Primary Health Care, University of Bristol, Cotham House, Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6JL.


Nurse-led walk-in centres were first announced in April 1999. They represent a new development in unscheduled care provision in the United Kingdom (UK) National Health Service (NHS). By the end of 2000, 40 NHS walk-in centres had been opened, with further centres recently announced. This paper aims to review international experience with walk-in centres in primary and emergency care and identify relevant lessons for the UK. This study is a systematic review, with qualitative synthesis of relevant findings. Studies were identified from seven major bibliographic databases using a sensitive search strategy, and 244 relevant documents relating to walk-in or 'ambulatory care' centres were identified. Users of walk-in centres in other countries tend to be a relatively affluent population of working age, and a different population from those using conventional general practice services. Walk-in centres are used particularly when other health services are closed. The problems presented are mainly minor illnesses and minor injuries. People choose this form of care mainly for reasons of convenience, and satisfaction with the service is generally high. The very limited evidence available suggests that walk-in centres provide care of reasonable quality, but there is insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions about the impact of walk-in centres on other healthcare services or the costs of such care. Although a number of countries have had a long experience of walk-in centres, the lack of reliable evidence on many of the most important issues is notable. In the NHS, walk-in centres represent a radically innovative attempt to improve access to health care, but the limited research available does little to inform their development. Important questions that need to be addressed include whether walk-in centres do improve access to care, for whom, and at what overall cost.

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