Urgent care centres staffed only by nurses are often restricted in the types of patients they can see depending on the time of day and who is on duty, a report by primary care researchers has found.
The Primary Care Foundation reviewed 15 urgent care centres around England, many of which have been set up with the aim of reducing pressure on accident and emergency departments.
However, the researchers found the term urgent care centre covered such a wide range of services that it caused “confusion” to patients and health professionals alike.
For example, some offered a full range of diagnostics and clinical staff and provided services almost equivalent to an accident and emergency department, while others were similar to walk in centres and could treat only routine cases that could be managed in primary care.
In addition, services were often provided in an “inconsistent” manner, said the foundation’s report Urgent Care Centres: What works best?. Sometimes the same centre could treat patients with different conditions at different times of the day, and some centres were open 24 hours a day but others just 12 to 14.
The report noted that there seemed to be a “particular issue with nurse-only services” which often had a wide range of capability among staff that meant the case mix that could be seen depended on who was on duty.
“At the times when an experienced nurse practitioner is not available, a narrower range of patients can be treated,” it warned.
The report highlighted one area which had addressed this by making sure all emergency nurse practitioners staffing its minor injury units “had a common skill base”.