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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 01:15 GMT 02:15 UK
US patients see specialists sooner
UK patients "less likely to be referred on"
Patients in the US visiting their family doctor have twice the chance of getting a specialist appointment, compared with British patients, say researchers.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal on Friday, highlights how much more difficult it is to get a consultant appointment in the UK.

However, experts say there are many more reasons why US patients should be more likely to get referred on.

Researchers from the Health Services Research and Development Center, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore looked at hundreds of thousands of patients both sides of the Atlantic visiting their GP or "primary care physician" - the US equivalent, during 1996 or 1997.

They were matched up for severity of disease symptoms so that research teams could check what happened to similar patients in the US and UK.

Double chance

In the US, between 30% and 36.8% of patients were referred on to a specialist compared to 13.9% of the UK patients.

The researchers suggested that the inadequacies of the NHS were to blame for the discrepancy.

They wrote: "The low availability of specialists, and resultant long waiting lists, in the UK, is an important explanation for these differences.


There are different clinical practices between the UK and US, so it's difficult to compare the two

Dr Jim Kennedy, Royal College of General Practitioners
"The supply of specialists in the US exceeds that in the UK by twofold.

"Just 1% of US patients wait four months or longer for elective surgery compared with 33% of UK patients."

However, UK doctors said that the reasons for the gap were more complex.

Dr Jim Kennedy, a GP from Hayes, and a spokesman for the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: "It's difficult to know the exact basis of the comparisons.

"There are different clinical practices between the UK and US, so it's difficult to compare the two."

He said that while GPs were far more accessible in the UK - often just around the corner, US patients not only had to pay to see one, but often had to drive to the nearest large town.

"There may be cultural differences between the two countries."

However, he added: "Most people will feel there is some element of truth in what they are saying.

"The differences in ease of access to specialists and the speed of access is a major issue in the UK."

See also:

23 Jun 00 | Health
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