OBJECTIVES: To examine the effect of general practitioners (GPs) working in or alongside the emergency department (GPED) on patient outcomes and experience, and the associated impacts of implementation on the workforce.
DESIGN: Mixed-methods study: interviews with service leaders and NHS managers; in-depth case studies (n=10) and retrospective observational analysis of routinely collected national data. We used normalisation process theory to map our findings to the theory's four main constructs of coherence, cognitive participation, collective action and reflexive monitoring.
SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: Data were collected from 64 EDs in England. Case site data included: non-participant observation of 142 clinical encounters; 467 semistructured interviews with policy-makers, service leaders, clinical staff, patients and carers. Retrospective observational analysis used routinely collected Hospital Episode Statistics alongside information on GPED service hours from 40 hospitals for which complete data were available.
RESULTS: There was disagreement at individual, stakeholder and organisational levels regarding the purpose and potential impact of GPED (coherence). Participants criticised policy development and implementation, and staff engagement was hindered by tensions between ED and GP staff (cognitive participation). Patient 'streaming' processes, staffing and resource constraints influenced whether GPED became embedded in routine practice. Concerns that GPED may increase ED attendance influenced staff views. Our quantitative analysis showed no detectable impact on attendance (collective action). Stakeholders disagreed whether GPED was successful, due to variations in GPED model, site-specific patient mix and governance arrangements. Following statistical adjustment for multiple testing, we found no impact on: ED reattendances within 7 days, patients discharged within 4 hours of arrival, patients leaving the ED without being seen; inpatient admissions; non-urgent ED attendances and 30-day mortality (reflexive monitoring).
CONCLUSIONS: We found a high degree of variability between hospital sites, but no overall evidence that GPED increases the efficient operation of EDs or improves clinical outcomes, patient or staff experience.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ISCRTN5178022.