Objectives: To examine the contribution of general practice organisation, population characteristics and distance to practice attendance rates at four local accident and emergency departments.
Design: Practice-based study examining variations in accident and emergency department attendance rates in 105 practices, using routine data from the Family Health Services Authority (FHSA), the District Health Authority and the 1991 Census.
Setting: East London and the City Health Authority, covering practices based in the inner city boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, and the City of London.
Main outcome measure: Practice-based, age-standardized, adult attendance rates at accident and emergency departments in the year to 31 March 1994.
Results: Annual age-standardized practice accident and emergency department attendance rates ranged from 10.3 to 29.4 per 100 population. The mean practice attendance rate was 17.6 per 100 (95% CI 16.8-18.4). No significant relationship was found between attendance rates and practice characteristics (number and sex of general practitioner (GP) principals, presence of practice manager or nurse, computerization and training status). There were strong positive relationships between attendance rates and households not owner-occupied (R = 0.55, P < 0.001) and pensioners living alone (R = 0.55, P < 0.001). There were negative correlations with Asian ethnicity (R = -0.31, P = 0.002) and residents lacking amenities (R = -0.26, P = 0.007). The distance to the nearest accident and emergency department also correlated negatively with attendance (R = -0.27, P = 0.006). A backwards multiple regression model showed that 48% of the variation in attendance rates could be accounted for by six factors: percentage of households not owner occupied, percentage living in households without a car, percentage living in households lacking amenities, percentage of pensioners living alone, percentage of Asian ethnicity, and percentage living in households with a head born in the New Commonwealth and Pakistan. Optimal subsets regression identified a number of alternative models with similar explanatory value.
Conclusions: Social deprivation is strongly linked with attendance rates at accident and emergency departments in East London. In contrast, the organizational characteristics of general practices appear to have no bearing on the rates. Both purchasers and providers need to take account of these findings when planning accident and emergency provision.