Factors affecting use of unscheduled care for people with advanced cancer: a retrospective cohort study in Scotland

Sarah Mills*, Deans Buchanan, Bruce Guthrie, Peter Donnan, Blair Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: People with advanced cancer frequently attend unscheduled care, but little is known about the factors influencing presentations. Most research focuses on accident and emergency (A&E) and does not consider GP out-of-hours (GPOOH).

AIM: To describe the frequency and patterns of unscheduled care use by people with cancer in their last year of life and to examine the associations of demographic and clinical factors with unscheduled care attendance.

DESIGN AND SETTING: Retrospective cohort study of all 2443 people who died from cancer in Tayside, Scotland, during 2012-2015. Clinical population datasets were linked to routinely collected clinical data using the Community Health Index (CHI) number.

METHOD: Anonymised CHI-linked data were analysed in SafeHaven, with descriptive analysis, using binary logistic regression for adjusted associations.

RESULTS: Of the people who died from cancer, 77.9% (n = 1904) attended unscheduled care in the year before death. Among unscheduled care users, most only attended GPOOH (n = 1070, 56.2%), with the rest attending A&E only (n = 204, 10.7%), or both (n = 630, 33.1%). Many attendances occurred in the last week (n =1360, 19.7%), last 4 weeks (n = 2541, 36.7%), and last 12 weeks (n = 4174, 60.3%) of life. Age, sex, deprivation, and cancer type were not significantly associated with unscheduled care attendance. People living in rural areas were less likely to attend unscheduled care: adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 0.64 (95% confidence interval = 0.50 to 0.82). Pain was the commonest coded clinical reason for presenting (GPOOH: n = 482, 10.5%; A&E: n = 336, 28.8%). Of people dying from cancer, n = 514, 21.0%, were frequent users (≥5 attendances/year), and accounted for over half (n = 3986, 57.7%) of unscheduled care attendances.

CONCLUSION: Unscheduled care attendance by people with advanced cancer was substantially higher than previously reported, increased dramatically towards the end of life, was largely independent of demographic factors and cancer type, and was commonly for pain and palliative care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e860-e868
Number of pages9
JournalThe British Journal of General Practice: the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners
Issue number689
Early online date28 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • After-hours care
  • Emergency service
  • Lung cancer
  • Pain
  • Terminal care


Dive into the research topics of 'Factors affecting use of unscheduled care for people with advanced cancer: a retrospective cohort study in Scotland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this