Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Urban legend versus rural reality: patients’ experience of attendance at accident and emergency departments in west Wales
  1. C D Palmer1,
  2. K H Jones1,
  3. P A Jones2,
  4. S V Polacarz2,
  5. G W L Evans2
  1. 1Dyfed R&D Consortium, Wales
  2. 2Pembrokeshire & Derwen NHS Trust, Wales
  1. Correspondence to:
 Mr G W L Evans
 Consultant in A&E, Pembrokeshire & Derwen NHS Trust, Withybush General Hospital, Fishguard Road, Haverfordwest SA61 2PZ, UK;


Objectives: To investigate why and how patients decide to attend accident and emergency (A&E) departments, and to assess their satisfaction with the experience, in a predominantly rural west Wales population.

Methods: This was a semi-structured follow up telephone interview of patients who walked in to A&E in one of four general hospitals in west Wales and were triaged as Manchester Triage score 4 or 5. Patients were recruited by nurses during the period July–November 2002. The study sample consisted of 176 male and 145 female patients, mean (SD) age 36.6 (20.0) years. The main outcome measure was a quantitative and qualitative description of the recalled experiences of A&E attenders, the circumstances of their attendance, and their satisfaction with the experience.

Results: Of the study sample, 78% attended with injury or illnesses of recent origin, and 50% with actual or presumed musculoskeletal injury, 73% of which were sustained within 10 miles of home. Travel to hospital was by private transport for 86%, average distance 7.4 miles. The majority (90%) were registered with a local GP, but 32% felt A&E was the obvious choice, and a further 44% considered their GP inaccessible to their needs. Patients’ reasons for seeking health care at A&E were similar to those described in an English urban study. Waiting times were rarely excessive; 80% left within 2 hours, and patient satisfaction was generally high. Among the 87 patients (27%) who reported a less satisfactory experience, 48 (55%) of these complained of dismissive attitudes of doctors.

Conclusions: Anecdotal accounts of abuse of A&E services and unreasonable patient expectations gain the status of “urban legends” within the medical profession. Among the predominantly settled rural population in west Wales, there is little evidence of unreasonable patient expectations, and most patients report high satisfaction levels. Patients’ bad experiences most frequently arise from a dismissive attitude on the part of medical staff. These attitudes are often consequent on an A&E culture that views some patients’ attendances as less appropriate than others.

  • A&E, Accident and Emergency department
  • GP, general practioner
  • rural health
  • after hours care
  • healthcare surveys
  • questionnaires
  • interviews
  • telephone
  • patients
  • emergency service
  • hospital
  • medical staff
  • hospital
  • family practice
  • NHS Direct

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Competing interests: none declared

Linked Articles

  • Primary Survey
    Jonathan Wyatt