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Last Updated: Monday, 29 January 2007, 12:26 GMT
Patients get 'faster GP access'
GP consultation
Patients should get an appointment within 48 hours
Patients are getting faster access to family doctors, a survey shows.

Nearly nine in 10 patients are seen within the target of 48 hours, with four in 10 seen on the same day - up from 27% three years ago.

The Department of Health poll of 10,000 patients also found 70% were able to make advanced appointments.

The target has been criticised, most famously during the last general election campaign, for forcing doctors to stop taking advanced bookings.

FLEXIBLE ACCESS
Most patients want to be able to see their doctor on evenings and weekends
69% would be happy for surgeries to close during the day if GPs offered appointments outside the usual opening times of 9am to 6pm
34% favoured opening hours after 6pm in the evenings, and 29% favoured Saturday opening

Tony Blair was confronted by a member of the public during the BBC's Question Time who told him the effect of the policy meant that she had to spend hours trying to get through to her local GP on the phone, because booking more than 48 hours ahead was no longer allowed.

Mr Blair described the situation as "astonishing" and promised action. In 2006, the government announced tighter checks on how doctors were performing against the target.

The 70% figure for appointments at least three days in advance is the same as the year before as is the 88% figure for the number of patients seen within 48 hours.

The government said half of patients waited for more than two days in 1997.

Convenient time

Health Minister Andy Burnham said: "Access to NHS GPs is undoubtedly improving.

This survey shows that the 48-hour access target has led to significant improvements in access and has largely ended the problem of people waiting a week or more to see a GP
Andy Burnham, health minister

"Patients rightly expect to be seen at a convenient time and quickly, that's why we set a target of patients being able to see a GP within two working days.

"This survey shows that the 48-hour access target has led to significant improvements in access and has largely ended the problem of people waiting a week or more to see a GP."

The survey, carried out by the Picker Institute for the government, also showed that patients wanted to see changes in GP opening hours.

More than two thirds said they would be content to see surgeries close during the day if GPs offered appointments outside of the traditional 9am to 6pm opening times.

A third wanted evening openings with a similar number calling for Saturday surgeries.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs Committee, said a shift to more appointments in evenings and weekends would inevitably mean fewer slots druring the normal working day if doctors were to work within existing resources.

He said: "The majority of our patients - the young and those with chronic, long-term conditions - don't want to lose daytime surgery hours. They would be disadvantaged as a result.

"GPs do want to work with patients to improve access but they need appropriate resources."

The Patients Association said too many people were still finding it difficult to book appointments in advance.

A spokeswoman said: "It is still a common problem. GPs are holding so many appointments back because they know they have to give people one within 48 hours.

"It is vital that people are seen quickly, but it is also important that they can book appointments in advance."


SEE ALSO
Blair promises action on GP row
29 Apr 05 |  Election 2005
GP advance bookings 'a problem'
07 Sep 05 |  Health

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