Page last updated at 01:55 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 02:55 UK

Patient survey reveals GP delays

GP and patient (generic)
Surgery hours are inconvenient for some people in modern-day Britain

Many patients say they are still waiting too long to see their GP - but levels of satisfaction with the care offered are high.

The Healthcare Commission poll of more than 69,000 people in England found 25% waited longer than two days - the official target - for an appointment.

A quarter of people said surgery hours were inconvenient and more than 50% had problems in getting through by phone.

The Department of Health said it had spent £250m to improve access to GPs.

People clearly do want to be able to see a GP more easily and at more convenient times
Anna Walker
Healthcare Commission

The convenience of the service offered by GPs has been the subject of a row between doctors in England and the government in recent months.

Ministers pushed through a deal to extend surgery opening hours, in the face of initial opposition from the British Medical Association.

The Healthcare Commission survey revealed younger people in particular had been put off visiting their GP practice because opening hours did not suit their lifestyles.

Graphs showing waiting and surgery times

The government's target of patients being seen within two days was also frequently missed, the survey suggested, with an average of 75% of people seen this quickly, falling to just 43% in the worst-performing area.

Appointment systems at surgeries were also criticised, with 26% of those who responded saying they had been unable to book an appointment three days in advance - and 55% said they had found it difficult to get through on the phone to the surgery.

Satisfaction

Once through the surgery door, however, things improved, with three-quarters of respondents saying the GP had dealt with their problem "completely" to their satisfaction, and 93% saying they were treated with "respect and dignity".

Most said they felt they had been given enough time to talk about their problem.

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Anna Walker, the commission's chief executive, said: "The survey shows the high regard that many patients have for the services at their GP surgeries.

"However, people clearly do want to be able to see a GP more easily and at more convenient times.

"It was striking that some people could not get an appointment within two days and that there are variations around the country."

She said that the survey findings also suggested that the government's "Choice" policy, which allows patients to choose their preferred hospital, was not being followed everywhere. The survey also highlighted the continuing problems faced by people looking for NHS dentists.

Graphs showing confidence and referral rates

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the BMA GPs' Committee, said that it was pleasing to see the high overall satisfaction with GP services.

He said: "With a limited number of appointments in any one day practices try very hard to strike a balance between making sure patients who want to book ahead are able to do so while still ensuring there are enough empty appointments for emergencies: on the whole it seems GP surgeries are getting it right.

"However, there are variations with access across the country and we want all patients to receive a good service from their GP."

The agreed changes to the GP contract mean extra surgery opening hours in the evenings and weekends in England. Similar arrangements are in place in Scotland and Wales.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said its own surveys had shown 89% of patients were being seen inside the 48-hour target.

He added: "The Healthcare Commission survey also shows that patients need access to primary care at more convenient times.

"Since the survey took place, the government has invested £250m in improving access and taken action to extend opening hours in GP practices."


SEE ALSO
Ministers target GPs over hours
04 Feb 08 |  Health

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