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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
Hewitt outlines radical GP plans
GP at work
GP surgeries are facing a radical shake-up
A radical shake-up of GP services, including possible special surgeries for teenagers, is to be outlined by Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The plans, which are being put out to a mass public consultation, aim to make surgeries more patient-friendly.

Other ideas include allowing people to register with GPs near their workplace as well as near their home as a better reflection of modern lifestyles.

Problems of access to GP appointments are also expected to be considered.

It comes after complaints that the government's target of patients waiting no longer than 48 hours for appointments had led many GP surgeries to stop allowing advanced bookings.

Out-of-hours cover

And in some areas, a lack of GPs means it is hard for patients to find a surgery to register with.

The provision of out-of-hours cover is also expected to figure in Ms Hewitt's plans, which will form part of the forthcoming white paper on primary care.

I think there is scope to improve availability, maybe introducing evening appointments and perhaps Saturday surgery
Dr Michael Dixon, of the NHS Alliance

It comes after GPs raised concerns about the length of time it took doctors covering large areas to reach patients out of hours and the use of non-medical staff to handle out-of-hours calls.

Ms Hewitt has said she wants to put the plans out to consultation in a different manner to past Whitehall exercises.

She is planning to hold mass town hall meetings based on a US model to ensure the public helps form policy.

She said: "This will be a major, large-scale deliberative event taking place at the local, regional and national level - beyond anything the Government has embarked upon before in the health field."

And in an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Ms Hewitt denied she wanted to privatise GP services, saying her aim was to provide better value for money and choice.

Teenagers

She said she was keen to improve health services for teenagers, adding that many young men were currently not registered with a GP at all.

And she told the newspaper she wanted to know how "traditional" GPs would feel about the prospect of dedicated surgeries for teenagers.

Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents primary care, welcomed the consultation.

"Ahead of this white paper, we need to hear what patients want and make sure we react to that."

However, he cautioned it was important to remember England had a GP service "to be proud of".

"We don't need to change everything. I think there is scope to improve availability, maybe introducing evening appointments and perhaps Saturday surgery."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley added: "Consultation with the public needs to be ongoing, another 'engagement exercise' is not enough. Patient care in the NHS requires a major policy shift."


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