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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 00:05 GMT
'It makes going to the doctors easy'
By Nick Triggle
BBC News website health reporter

The government wants to see GP practices open for longer to help the NHS become more patient-friendly.

But the concept of evening and early morning opening is nothing new for some doctors' surgeries. One south London practice is proving to be a valuable asset for busy locals.

Phil Brogan
Mr Brogan used to have to take time off work to go to the doctors

Phil Brogan works as a PR consultant in central London, travelling in from the outskirts of the city each day.

Like many commuters, he has experienced problems booking doctors' appointments.

The 29-year-old used to live in north London and if he needed to see a GP would have to finish work early or even take a day off.

"It was inconvenient, work was quite understanding, but it was still sometimes tricky. In a way it puts you off going to the doctors."

But since Mr Brogan moved south and registered with a surgery in Balham, the problems have been resolved.

Balham Park Surgery, situated in an area popular with commuters who work in central London, runs a late-night surgery on Wednesdays until 9pm, along with two 7am starts during the week.

Convenient

Mr Brogan, who was at the Wednesday night surgery for blood tests when the BBC News website spoke to him, said: "It is like a breath of fresh air. I ring up, make the booking and just pop in on my way home. It is so convenient. This is what the NHS should be like."

Indeed, it has proved such a hit that one patient - Jo Sturdy, 29 - told the BBC she had wanted to stay registered at the practice even though she was moving from the area.

While it may not be suitable for all surgeries, I think GP practices should be encouraged to think more about how services are designed
Dr Patrick Bower

She said: "I suppose I am like many other people. I have called in on my way home from work - for some people it is just not possible to visit the doctors during the day."

The late-night surgery has been running for the last couple of years after local health bosses set up a scheme to incentivise doctors to run practices more flexibly.

It operates as an appointment-only system manned by two doctors and a practice nurse and is normally fully booked.

The surgery, which has 12 GPs and five practice nurses in total, is also pioneering a range of enhanced services that family doctors are being encouraged to adopt.

One of the doctors runs a minor surgery service for skin complaints such as warts and moles, while there is also a smoking cessation counsellor on hand.

Appointments

It is all part of a new model of care which the government is trying to encourage in a bid to reduce admissions to hospitals.

Dr Patrick Bower, the senior partner at the practice, said: "The evening surgery and the other services are all about providing care that is based around the patients.

"The night appointments are very popular with commuters obviously, and our other patients are able to come during the day.

Dr Patrick Bower
Dr Bower says GPs should think more about how services are designed

"While it may not be suitable for all surgeries, I think GP practices should be encouraged to think more about how services are designed."

But it is not just commuters who benefit from the late-night opening.

Roger Lauckert, 48, who has just moved to the area, said he had made the evening appointment because he was busy sorting things out at home during the day.

"It means you can fit things around your life. Where I used to live, surgery seemed to run for a few hours in the morning, followed by a long break for lunch and a few hours in the evening.

"This makes a refreshing change. I could have come during the day, but it gave me an opportunity to sort things out at home."




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