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OBJECTIVE: To assess the influence of general practice opening hours on healthcare seeking behaviour after transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and minor stroke and feasibility of clinical assessment within 24 hours of symptom onset. DESIGN: Population based prospective incidence study (Oxford vascular study). SETTING: Nine general practices in Oxfordshire. PARTICIPANTS: 91 000 patients followed from 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2006. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Events that occurred overnight and at weekends (out of hours) and events that occurred during surgery hours. RESULTS: Among 359 patients with TIA and 434 with minor stroke, the median (interquartile range) time to call a general practitioner after an event during surgery hours was 4.0 (1.0-45.5) hours, and 68% of patients with events during surgery hours called within 24 hours of onset of symptoms. Median (interquartile range) time to call a general practitioner after events out of hours was 24.8 (9.0-54.5) hours for patients who waited to contact their registered practice compared with 1.0 (0.3-2.6) hour in those who used an emergency general practitioner service (P<0.001). In patients with events out of hours who waited to see their own general practitioner, seeking attention within 24 hours was considerably less likely for events at weekends than weekdays (odds ratio 0.10, 95% confidence interval 0.05 to 0.21): 70% with events Monday to Friday, 33% on Sundays, and none on Saturdays. Thirteen patients who had events out of hours and did not seek emergency care had a recurrent stroke before they sought medical attention. A primary care centre open 8 am-8 pm seven days a week would have offered cover to 73 patients who waited until surgery hours to call their general practitioner, reducing median delay from 50.1 hours to 4.0 hours in that group and increasing those calling within 24 hours from 34% to 68%. CONCLUSIONS: General practitioners' opening hours influence patients' healthcare seeking behaviour after TIA and minor stroke. Current opening hours can increase delay in assessment. Improved access to primary care and public education about the need for emergency care are required if the relevant targets in the national stroke strategy are to be met.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ (Clinical research ed.)

Publication Date