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Last Updated: Monday, 20 June, 2005, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Patients denied advance bookings
GP waiting room
The government says GP access has improved
Almost a quarter of patients cannot book a GP appointment three or more days in advance, it is reported.

Pulse magazine said early results from the 2005 National Patient Survey showed 23% of patients surveyed were unable to book that far ahead.

According to the magazine, the survey also showed 22% of practices were not offering access within the government target of 48 hours.

The Department of Health said the reports did not match official figures.

If you have to make more appointments available on the day or following day that means there are less appointments available for forward booking
British Medical Association

According to the department's statistics, 99.8% of practices offer 48-hour access, and only 1.6% restrict bookings to two days ahead.

Patients have complained that the target of patients waiting no more than 48 hours for a GP appointment has led to restrictions on advanced bookings.

The issue was highlighted during the general election campaign when Prime Minister Tony Blair was challenged on the topic on a BBC Question Time special.

The statistics seen by Pulse are based on results collected from 27,000 patients in 62 primary care trusts (PCTs).

Out-of-hours care

The poll found that 75% of patients felt that they had been seen as soon as they thought was necessary - up from 58% last year.

But it also found that 22% of patients said they were not satisfied with the standard of out-of-hours care.

GPs raised concerns last week about the provision of out-of-hours services, the responsibility for which passed to PCTs last year.

They said patient care was being put at risk due to the length of time it took doctors covering large areas to reach patients, and the use of non-medical staff in handling calls.

Phil Johnson, editor of Pulse, said: "The 48-hour access target has become a totem of government meddling, with all the distorting effects on health priorities that government meddling brings."

A British Medical Association spokesperson said: "GPs have long had concerns about the 48-hour access target because it does not allow doctors to prioritise their patients on the basis of need.

"Doctors will always see patients with an urgent medical problem straight away.

"However, if you have to make more appointments available on the day or following day that means there are less appointments available for forward booking, particularly in stretched areas."

A Department of Health spokesman said PCTs were being asked to ensure local practices offered fast and flexible booking.

"It is important that patients must be able to book appointments easily and at times which suit them," he said.




SEE ALSO:
Blair promises action on GP row
29 Apr 05 |  Election 2005
Why GPs dislike the 48-hour target
29 Apr 05 |  Election 2005


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