Thursday, October 21, 1999 Published at 09:16 GMT 10:16 UK
Blair: GPs need to be more flexible
Patients wanted to see a doctor at their convenience
The NHS must put the interests of patients above those of doctors, Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the BBC.
Responding to a survey of 60,000 patients in England about GP services, Mr Blair told the Nine O'Clock News that the NHS needed to be more flexible and user-friendly.
He said this would require more investment in new techonology and working practices, but also a change in the doctors' attitude to patients.
"We need people to help us to get that change in and you can't have the old-fashioned idea of a heath service that simply hands down to the patient, that the patient has to accept in a way that may be convenient for the practitioner but isn't actually convenient for the patient," he said.
He added that the survey showed patients were most concerned about lack of access to doctors at the times they found most convenient, although he admitted it also showed most patients were satisfied with their GP.
Most patients surveyed said they felt their family doctor spent enough time on the consultation, had the appropriate skills, and was easy to understand.
The criticism of GPs were mostly to do with the availabilty of appointments.
One in five people who worked said they put off going to see their doctor because of inconvenient surgery hours.
One in four had to wait four days or more for an appointment, and almost half then had to wait for over a quarter of an hour when they got to the surgery.
The survey found those who were least satisfied were people under 45, patients from ethnic minorities, and those living in London.
The government has been promoting more flexible alternatives, such as walk-in clinics and the 24-hour nurse-led helpline NHS Direct.
"I am pleased, but not surprised, that patients' views of their GP's skills, knowledge, attitude and ability to communicate are very favourable and that the great majority of the public have confidence in their GP's diagnosis and treatment," he said.
He acknowledged that a "minority" of patients had trouble contacting their GP and getting an immediate appointment with the GP of their choice at the time of their choice.
"Obviously those patients would like to see accessibility improved," he said.
"GPs are constantly thinking about how to deliver a high quality service to their patients, but accessibility can most easily be improved with additional resources - most vitally a substantial increase in the number of GPs and primary care nurses."