OBJECTIVES: The attitudes and knowledge of hospital based staff about the capabilities of general practice may be important obstacles to continuity of care and the quality of communication at the primary-secondary care interface. However, little research has sought to investigate such factors or how they change over time. The study aims to assess how senior house officers (SHOs) in accident and emergency (A&E) departments perceive general practice, and to test how attitudes change during their six months' tenure. METHODS: Questionnaires were sent to all A&E SHOs working in the 27 A&E departments in South Thames region. At the end of the first month and at the end of the sixth months SHOs were asked to respond using 100 mm visual analogue scales to statements about the quality of general practitioner (GP) services in their area and their attitudes towards treating primary care patients in A&E. RESULTS: After sending reminders, 135 (79%) SHOs responded to the questionnaire at the end of the first month, and 115 (67%) responded to the questionnaire at the end of the sixth month; 104 (61%) responded to both. Statements relating to GP accessibility within and outside normal working hours, perceptions of patients' satisfaction with GP services, GPs' effectiveness in educating patients about use of services, and the frustrations and lack of reward of treating primary care patients scored most negatively. The overall trend was for attitudes to become more negative during SHOs' period of employment in A&E, particularly for those intent on hospital specialist careers or those working within London hospitals. CONCLUSIONS: The findings indicate the extent to which attitudes become more entrenched over time. This may lead to care that is more hospital focused. These issues need to be addressed if quality improvement is to occur across the A&E-primary care interface.
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