Better educated use outpatient services more, study finds

Highly-educated retired people use NHS outpatient care services ‘considerably more’ than their less educated peers, according to a new study.

Research published today (6 October) by researchers from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), University College London and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and funded by the Health Foundation and the British Heart Foundation claims there is a large gap between the more and less-educated individualsusing outpatients, which has emerged over the last 10 years.

But the report adds that no such gap exists for use of emergency or elective inpatient care.

According to the report, people who are retired and better educated are, on average, in better health than their less educated peers, and so tend to make less frequent use of NHS hospitals.

Researchers claim 42% of those aged 65 and above with higher education report their health as ‘very good’, compared to just 23% of those with no formal qualifications.

The study also found that between 2010 and 2015 better educated people made 17% more outpatient hospital visits annually relative to those with no formal qualifications.

And it says there is some evidence that, after 2010, highly educated individuals used less accident & emergency (A&E) care than less educated individuals with similar levels of need.

‘Overall, the NHS does a good job of limiting socioeconomic differences in the use of inpatient hospital care – in line with its founding principles,’ said IFS research economist, Ben Zaranko.

‘However, when it comes to use of outpatient, or specialist, hospital services the highly educated are using more care than less educated individuals with similar levels of need, driven by differences in the number of routine and follow-up appointments.

Further research is needed in order to understand the reasons, and consequences, of this new trend.’

Eric Brunner, a professor of epidemiology at the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care and senior author of the study, added: ‘We show the NHS is a magnificent health care system, which continued at least until the end of the data series in 2015 to deliver elective and emergency hospital care in a socially just way to all older citizens regardless of their education level.

‘The COVID-19 emergency has challenged the NHS. Nevertheless, our study suggests the tax-funded, free-at-the point-of-use principles of the NHS provide an effective way to organise fair, universal health care funding and delivery.’

Photo Credit – Pasja1000 (Pixabay)

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