OBJECTIVE--To determine whether particular sociodemographic characteristics of patients with stable angina affected their general practitioners' (GPs') decisions to refer them for revascularisation assessment. DESIGN--Postal questionnaire survey. SETTING--Collaborative survey by the departments of public health medicine in each of the four health boards in Northern Ireland, serving a total population of 1.5 million. SUBJECTS--All (962) GPs. MAIN MEASURES--The relation between GPs' referral decisions and patients' age, sex, employment status, home circumstances, smoking habits, and obesity. RESULTS--541 GPs replied (response rate 56%). Most were "neutral" towards a patient's sex (428, 79%), weight (331, 61%), smoking habit (302, 56%), employment status (431, 80%), and home circumstances (408, 75%) in making decisions about referral. In assigning priority for surgery most were neutral towards the patient's sex (459, 85%), employment status (378, 70%), and home circumstances (295, 55%). However, most GPs (518, 95%) said that younger patients were more likely to be referred, and a significant minority were less likely to refer patients who smoked (202, 37%) and obese patients (175, 32%) and more likely to refer employed patients (97, 18%) and those with dependents (117, 22%) (compared with patients with otherwise comparable clinical characteristics); these views paralleled the priority which GPs assigned these groups. The stated likelihood of referral of young patients was independent of the GPs' belief in ability to benefit from revascularisation, but propensity to refer and perception of benefit were significantly associated for all other patient characteristics. CONCLUSION--GPs' weighting of certain characteristics in reaching decisions about referral for angiography is not uniform and may contribute to unequal access to revascularisation services for certain patient groups.
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