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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Most 'satisfied' with GPs' hours
Stethoscope
Practices stand to gain financially from the poll results
The majority of people in England are satisfied with the opening hours of their GP surgery, according to a survey organised by the Department of Health.

A poll of more than 2m patients found 84% did not feel the need for extended early morning or evening surgeries, contrary to some expectations.

However, some 25% of those who wanted to book more than two days ahead for an appointment were unable to do so.

Practices receiving favourable reports stand to gain about 11,700 extra.

This money can either be ploughed back into the practice or go into the pay packets of GPs, whose average pay now tops 100,000.

Key findings
86%: able to make quick appointment
84%: satisfied with opening hours
88%: able to see specific doctor
75%: able to make advance booking

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Health Secretary Alan Johnson said this money provided "a clear incentive" for GPs who had not performed well to respond to the results of the survey.

While stressing that the poll underlined that GPs on the whole provided a good service, Mr Johnson highlighted ethnic discrepancies which needed investigating.

Black and Asian people had satisfaction rates up to 10% lower than those of white people, while those of Bangladeshi background had the lowest satisfaction rates - around 20% below whites.

He said: "I am particularly concerned about areas of deprivation where there is greater need for GP services, but fewer available compared to more prosperous parts of the country.

"All patients in this country, no matter where they live or what their background, should enjoy first class primary care services.

"I want to see more convenient opening hours and more GPs in deprived and less well served areas."

Mr Johnson has set up a team to provide targeted support to poorly performing primary care trusts and GP practices to improve access.

Raw deal

Its initial focus will on the areas with the lowest patient satisfaction and fewest doctors per head.

Lord Darzi, the new health minister, will also review incentive payments for GPs to ensure those that respond best to patient concerns are effectively rewarded.

Graph showing satisfaction with GP surgery opening times

And Professor Mayur Lakhani, of the Royal College of GPs, will examine why people from the ethnic minorities appear to be getting a raw deal.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the survey proved what was already known - the majority of people were satisifed with the appointment system.

"You have to ask: was it really a good use of scarce NHS money to spend upwards of 11m to prove it yet again," said Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's General Practitioners Committee.

But he added: "Obviously we would want the satisfaction figures to be even higher. Family doctors want to meet the needs of their patients and with their teams work hard to do so."

Michael Summers of the Patients Association broadly welcomed the results, although he questioned some of the findings in relation to the suggestion that only 7% of patients wanted the practice to open on a Saturday.

"People generally are pretty satisfied with their GPs, and we know that they do their best to try to remain open when they can," he said.

"But it is not enough. People really want greater access to surgeries, they would like the return of opening on Saturday mornings, for example, they would like to have better booking facilities for appointments.

"Up and down the country there are still some difficulties in relation to getting an early appointment when it suits the patient as opposed to when it suits the doctor."

Booking ahead

The inability to book a GP appointment ahead was a major issue during the 2005 general election campaign.

Practices were told they had to set appointments aside for people to make in advance.

Many had scrapped advance bookings in order to meet a target of providing everyone who wanted one with an appointment within 48 hours.

"Before GPs were offered more cash for meeting 48 hour targets, all patients could make bookings to fit in with their work and family commitments," said Joyce Robins, of the lobby group Patient Concern.

"Now they have to take appointments at the convenience of the surgery, to boost doctor's profits."

However, the survey found less than 60% of the people polled had wanted to make an advance booking.

Of these, the majority - 75% - had been able to do so.


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