Tony Blair has promised to investigate claims that GPs are not allowing advance appointments because of government targets
The Labour leader said he was "astonished" at the complaint when it was put to him on the BBC's Question Time.
Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Mr Blair is out of touch with what is going on in the NHS."
What do you think about the government health targets? How easy is it to get an appointment with your doctor? Send us your comments and experiences.
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments. You can read a selection of them below.
I have never had any problem booking doctor's appointments in advance. When I call my surgery I get a choice of doctor, time and date, and I live in the inner city of Newcastle, not some outlying district.
J Wright, Newcastle upon Tyne
I am a GP. I have read many comments from the public on this matter and most do not seem to understand why we do what we do. The 48 hour target set by the Department of Health is to see a GP. It is not to see a specific doctor. Unfortunately some doctors are more popular than others, but according to the public we should just see them all in 48 hours. I work a solid 10 hour day. Appointments are set at 10 minutes, but every doctor I know will give an individual patient the time they need for their problem. As a profession we do our best given poor resources. We sort out 80% of the NHS workload, but don't get 80% of resources. I am here for ill people, most people attending GPs are not ill. I think it is about time people understand the strain they are putting on the NHS.
Dr S Millns Sizer, Leeds
It's obvious that this target based approach doesn't work. My GPs surgery has completely rehashed the way they handle appointments in order to meet targets better. Last time I went I waited over four hours to see a doctor.
Tony Flitton, Halesowen
My GP service is brilliant. I can phone up that day and am always guaranteed an appointment, I can book nurses appointments in advance, or I can turn up at 8am or 4pm and will always be seen. I see the same doctor every time I go.
SS, Worthing, UK
We have a 24 hour system operating here. So if you're unavailable during the 25-or-so minutes after the phones open at 8am sharp, you don't get an appointment.
Ben, Canterbury, Kent
It was quite clear that this was something new to Tony Blair and he has promised to go away and look at it. He could not be expected to know about this, so saying he is out of touch is ridiculous.
I used to be moderately supportive of Labour but now I have had enough. Shifting the NHS towards a more market based system is a ridiculous proposition and one that has proven to be detrimental to healthcare standards by the USA. The two best performing systems in the world, Sweden and Japan spend over half as little on healthcare spending as the USA does but still have far better performing systems. Why does Labour think "competition" increases efficiency when this clearly isn't the case?
Gareth Partridge, Maidstone, Kent
The trouble with all these responses is that they are all anecdotal. We need proper statistics to know whether this really is an issue or whether it's a lot of hot air blown up by patients of a few practices who are not reading the rules correctly. And how many of these apparently dis-satisfied patients are Conservative voters/activists?
The only problem I have with the GP is waiting times when I arrive for my appointment. If I have an appointment at 2pm, I have to wait at least an hour before I am seen. The reason I found for this is that GP's give out appointments every five or 10 minutes which is too short to see each patient and is done to see as many people in one day and causes huge delays. It might seem a small thing, but it can make a huge difference and maybe one day I will be seen on time for my appointment at the GP.
Talal, Manchester, UK
My GP practice has also moved to the absurd '48 hours in advance only' system, to the great inconvenience of all those who go out to work and need to make appointments to fit in with their colleagues. It's about time Mr Blair and his cabinet started to actually use the NHS and General Practice so they can see what the rest of us have to put up with. No doubt they all have private doctors on call whenever they want and so swing the system, just as they can swing the education system and send their children to the most advantageous schools. Bitter? I should say so.
Ann Keith, Cambridge
I have been able to make an appointment and see my doctor for the past three months. I used to phone a week in advance of the date he wanted to see me. It worked fine for me. In addition I got to see the doctor that I wanted. It took time to change but the new appointment system works fine. I am in no doubt that should an emergency arise I will be able to see a doctor immediately. Carry on Tony you are doing fine.
Nora Bedford, Newark, Notts UK
This is why the Conservatives will get my vote.
Phillip Evans, Wales
We have an excellent doctor who will go to any lengths to care for his patients. He works alone but is always available tomorrow. Blair has said that he would prefer large practises with up to ten doctors. In a situation like that it is difficult to build up a relationship with a doctor who is aware of your needs. I know that from very personal experience. It is a pity that Mr Blair is so out of touch with such matters that do not affect his own family. John Reid is useless.
P Lawrence, Telford Shropshire
Rubbish. You all complained because you had to wait seven to ten days to see a doctor, now you moan because you have to see him within 48 hours. You all make me sick, now I have to make an appointment and I have got to see him tomorrow, not wait ten days.
John L Cooper, Great Yarmouth
Never had a problem in my life to see a GP. Organisations need targets, the whole thing is a spurious distraction. The prime minister is not here to worry about GP waiting times, he has a minister of health to do that.
John, East Sussex
I am a GP and agree that 48 hour access is not ideal, but has certainly cut down on non-attenders! The biggest problem facing us is lack patient awareness of the problem: No, we cannot all be female; no, you can't bring a list of problems to a 10 minute appointment; no, we can't all be there from dawn till dusk every single day; yes, we are human too and not indestructible. The sooner people start taking some responsibility for their own health and choosing a better government the better!
It would seem that Scottish patients are happier with the service than their English counterparts. I do not see how the prime minister can be expected to know everything about all aspects of the NHS. It is unfair to criticise him as he did look into the problem immediately.
Anne McShane, East Renfrewshire, Scotland
The reason some surgeries won't make appointments more than 48 hours in advance is that too many people fail to show up if the appointment is further ahead than that. It's as simple as that.
Jasper Coggins, Birmingham, UK
I was asked to wait for four days before telephoning to speak to my GP. I need physiotherapy and have been told it is not available on the NHS.
Peter Varnish, Hampshire
I phoned my doctors last Thursday for an appointment. I was informed the system had changed, and if I wanted an appointment I had to start phoning the surgery from 0830 on Friday. And where previously if I was on there door step when they opened I could see a doctor as a walk in patient had been stopped. On the Friday as instructed I started calling at 0829 the phone was engaged, and remained that way until I gave up at 0930. This did not help my high blood pressure.
Ron Foster, Mitcham
The problem stems from the fact that the family doctor system no longer exists, GP's run a business and patients suffer as a consequence of doctors chasing bigger government payouts. Patients suffer and the complaints system jeopardise their right to access a doctor as well as risking being removed from the list.
Maybe it's time the government stop putting responsibilities on the doctors and start fining patients for time wasting valuable life saving services. Being responsible for each and every action in such a litigious age is demanding enough.
Steve Manton, Stockport UK
I am extremely grateful for the targets now applying in the NHS. I have only had to wait nine months for my first hip replacement compared to what would have been 18 months to three years before they were implemented. Similarly, if I need to see my GP, I can see him either the same day or the next day. It really doesn't bother me that I can't make an appointment for a week in advance when it is not urgent.
Mary Lewis, Telford
Government central planning of health services? I thought the Soviet Union tried to centrally plan things - and look where that got them. What on earth a bunch of politicians would know about running a health service is beyond me.
John B, Edinburgh
At our surgery you can only make appointments on the day so you have to phone up in the morning and hope that appointments with your own doctor are still available. Of course, everyone phones when the surgery opens so it is very hard to get through. My wife is a school teacher and she is teaching when the surgery opens so for her it is impossible to make appointments. For many working people it is also inconvenient that you have to ask for time off work on the day.
Stefan, Oxfordshire, UK
It is easy to say we need to scrap targets but remember folks, targets in government services around the world became a phenomenon in the 1990s when all nations realized that government systems must be run like businesses - in order to manage limited resources well. If Howard says there should be no targets, it is like going back to the dark ages.
Gerry Lewis, Mansfield, Notts
If targets are dropped then the same people complaining about them will start complaining about the lack of accountability. Some people will complain about anything and everything - everyone who works for a tabloid newspaper, for example.
My GP's system is great - they do book appointments in advance, but have one doctor each day who only sees people who book on the day. It means that if you want to see your own doctor you can book in advance, or if you need to see someone urgently you can (only it may mean seeing a different doctor). I have never had a problem making an appointment, whereas I did before the targets came in.
I have never had any problems getting an appointment to see my doctor. My doctor's surgery has an open surgery Monday to Friday 8.30 - 12.30, and if that time is no good you can book an appointment in the evenings.
Hayley, Newport, South Wales
I am so glad this has come out. A few weeks ago I wanted to book an appointment with my own GP (who works part time, two days a week) and was told I could not book more than two days in advance. My appointment was not urgent I just wanted to speak to that GP about the care of my chronic condition. I was happy to book on two weeks, six weeks, even six months in advance but to no avail. Why can't I see my own GP for a non-urgent appointment when I want to?
My doctors' has operated 48 hour appointments for a while now, and it's now easier to see my own doctor.
Sharon Strudwick, Woking
Anybody who is nitpicking about items like this should be forced to come to America and use their medical services. But bring thousands of dollars with you because you will need it! God bless the NHS - you just don't know lucky we are!
Derek Hayman, Chester England and Lake Wales Florida
As a former practice nurse, I would like to point out that thousands of appointments are not kept by patient's every week. This is irresponsible and if this was rectified then there may be no need to have targets at all. For example, by a charge for missed appointments or by removing patients from the list after three missed appointments.
Since moving to Scotland we have had no problems seeing a GP. When living England we were interrogated by a receptionist who would then decide when you could see the GP.
Karen Matthews, Dunbartonshire Scotland
My Doctor runs a 48 hour booking system. It works very well. I have always been able to get an appointment and without taking a long time on the phone. What is all the fuss? One more comment: even with a 48 hour booking system a large minority of patients fail to keep their appointment and make no attempt to cancel. This says something about the way some people play fast and loose with any system
Bill White, Croydon
The new appointment system means that you never see the same doctor twice in a row and there is no continuity of treatment and advice. The other recent innovation is an ageist policy, where prescriptions can not be issued for more than 28 days supply of medicine if you are aged over 60 years.
Arthur Harlett, Crawley
People in this country think the PM should know and sort out every little thing in peoples' lives. Go to your local MP, that's their job if you have any problems.
My doctors' surgery has improved. You can now see the doctor the day you are ill or make an appointment to suit your need.
Bob Bowles, Manchester
I think everyone has a horror story about trying to get an appointment with a GP. I believe targets should be scraped completely and politicians should leave doctors and nurses alone to get on with doing their jobs. In my experience politicians do more harm than good when they try to improve things!
Jack Stone, Southend on Sea.
Targets alone are not good management tools. They are quick fix with little thought for their implications. Considerably more thought needs to be given to other motivational factors which influence how people behave in response to targets. Common sense seems in short supply within this government.
John, Ross-shire, Scotland
Politically set targets are damaging to the nation's health. I have been diagnosed as suffering from peripheral neuropathy. I need nerve conductivity tests to determine the cause and then can have treatment. There is a THREE YEAR wait for these tests. Because they are a diagnostic test they do not figure in the government targets so reducing the waiting time is not a priority. I am in pain and my condition gets worse the longer I wait. But because resources are being concentrated on reducing the figures that appear in the statistics, patient care is suffering.
Edward Chapman, Cornwall
Why so much need for medical attention in the first place? I would love to see a real awakening of interest in the infinite healing resources already within us, and a radical reduction in thinking that the medical establishment has all the answers.
Tony Osborne, Slough
As a medical student currently on a General Practice attachment I have to say that after studying the GP system for a while it is clear that this 48 hour booking system is certainly not widespread. All the more ridiculous then for Tony Blair to jump on the bandwagon and pledge to reduce government targets.
Piers Foster, Edinburgh, UK
My GP practice goes one better! Patients are unable to book an appointment for the next day! Being told that I had to ring up in the morning at a time when I was at my most busiest trying to sort out family and get to work means I often could not get an appointment because by the time I was able to ring there were no appointments left.
I called my doctor's surgery at 9.20am on Tuesday for an appointment, I was told that there were no appointments available and I would need to call back the next morning to see if I could get an appointment for Friday. No, this surgery is not meeting government targets, it is just fiddling the figures and I now learn they are being given a financial bonus for depriving people of prompt treatment!
Jill, West Midlands
My GP's practice operates a 'ring on the day' system. It's a nightmare. I managed to get through to the surgery ten minutes after the lines opened. I was told that in that space of time all the appointments had been filled!
Barbara Garner, E. Sussex
Patients shouldn't be allowed to book appointments more than 48 hours in advance - that evidence shows that the longer in advance the appointments are booked, the fewer patients turn up for them! The 24-48 hour limit produces up to 25% more available appointments by cutting out these 'did not attends'.
I don't think that the 48 hour system is such a bad idea but it is the financial rewards involved for implementing it that worry me. Similar thing happens with the MMR jab - the GP receives more money the more jabs he administers. The doctors are no longer offering an unbiased opinion just one based on financial rewards.
I am a GP - I have four colleagues and the five of us try to care for the 10,000 mainly elderly patients registered with us - I repeat 10,000 to 5 - this is the fundamental issue. We cannot ever provide the capacity to meet the ever growing demand from our patients who mostly appreciate the ridiculous ratio involved. When you cannot get through, get an appointment etc, this is the fundamental reason. When a doctor is on holiday or sick , or increasingly having to take time away for 'personal development planning' and 'appraisal' the ratio immediately deteriorates. Few recognise the vast amount of other work now required apart from face to face consultations. Few patients realise that under the new contract they are no longer registered with 'their GP' but with a corporate practice. The individual list was abolished under Labour although this appears to have been kept very quiet.
Norman, Blackpool, Lancs
I am a GP working in a practice offering so-called "advanced access". The experience of the lady on Question Time is, I am afraid, typical. GPs have only so many hours in the day like anyone else. If we are to guarantee that anyone who wishes to be seen can be seen within 24 hours, then it follows that something else has to give to free up the spaces. That is why many practices only allow booking on the day. It is another example of an ill-thought-out target.
Ian, Perth, Scotland
I've moved around a lot in the past few years and virtually all of the surgeries I've been registered at have a no appointment system in the mornings, where you arrive and get seen in turn. However, having moved to North Wales I tried to get an appointment with my doctor last month and the only appointment was 8 days away!
Iain Alexander, Wrexham, Wales
Do not complain too much about the system of appointments ie 48hrs. I was surprised to find out about it. When I used the practice complaints procedure I was removed off the list and so were my whole family. This was supported by the PCT, GMC and BMA for being an alleged troublemaker for actually making a complaint! I was disgusted by the attitude of the PCT, BMA and GMC they should know better after all they publish on their websites.
I have in my diary an appointment with my doctor for 12th May. He wanted to see me in six weeks from my last visit. I am sure that very few practices have interpreted the targets in such a stupid manner, but then any anecdote will do to discredit the NHS.
Eric Heley, Lee on the Solent, UK
If Tony Blair is astonished, it's because nobody told him about it. What's John Reid for? It's a silly debate about nothing and media fuelled yet again.
Heather, London, England
In our GP surgery, a new system of on the day booking has been introduced for some time. Life is unbelievably easy now, and we are able to see the GP when we really need to see him, not wait for a week or longer and suffer with your condition and when eventually arrive on the day you find your self behind the queue as the waiting room is full of patients with emergency cases. GP surgery and NHS in general has seen lot of improvements in last few years and we need continuity.
Arshad Tirmizi, Hanwell, London
Scrap the targets and let doctors and dentists manage their own practices. They are only interested in patient care, not like the legions of NHS managers and politicians who are out to score points and further their own careers.
Angus, West Sussex
In some ways I think it's a good idea, you don't want people making it their life hobby to see their doctor but at present the system is a lottery and makes a mockery of the government's targets.
John Pickles, Halifax
You have to know a week in advance that you're going to be ill, and then book your appointment with our doctors. Try getting an appointment before that, no chance.
Peter Berry, Portsmouth
The new 48 hour system is brilliant. You get to see a doctor as soon as you feel ill. It works here very well indeed.
P Rollason, Worthing
I find the system works if you have you have time to dial and redial from 8.30 to 10 am until you get through or if you can go down to the surgery and arrange an appointment. As I work full time I can do neither and consequently can no longer make appointments easily.
If Mr Blair was unaware of all these problems, maybe it's about time we elected a PM who actually does his job.
I cannot complain about my GP services. All you do is turn up at the surgery and book in. you will see a doctor but you will have to wait. In 50 years I have never waited more than 1.5 hours. That is what I call good service.
My wife works in a surgery. No appointments left for today so patients have to call back from 8am Tuesday to make an appointment (next day that they are open). At that time it will be a bun fight if you do not get the engaged tone.
M Webber, Bradford West Yorkshire
I hate this system and am astonished that Mr Blair appeared to know nothing about the inconvenience it has caused. In the past, my GP would always see an emergency on the same day. Most of my appointments were not urgent and I was happy to book a week in advance. Now I have no choice and feel I am wasting time by having to phone up on the day for something that can wait.
Carol Scott, Huntingdon, Cambs
Advance appointments are essential for managing ongoing health conditions and even arranging contraception. I can't take time off work to make an appointment in the middle of the day because I work over an hour's commute from where I live. Surely the Government should be encouraging the sensible monitoring of ongoing health conditions instead of forcing people to choose between their health and their jobs.
Catherine Hildebrand, London
What row? The one the BBC has been trying to create all day? This morning I needed a quick appointment and I was given one for an hour and a half later. Was seen by a charming GP and treatment commenced. Thank God (and the Labour government) for our wonderful health service and for our equally wonderful nurses and doctors and all health workers. Stop knocking our NHS, want to know real injustice in the NHS? Then vote Tory on May 5th and be prepared to for large scale privatisation.
Elaine, Kensworth, UK
My local GP surgery is only able to offer the earliest appointment for two weeks time. Unless I take time out of work and go to one of their drop-in surgeries, which requires me to cancel appointments. As I work for the NHS, this increases the pressure that I am under due to my job and makes it extremely inconvenient for myself and families I work with. Additionally, I recently wanted to confirm my pregnancy and the earliest GP appointment they could offer me was for two weeks. I was just lucky to get a cancellation appointment with the nurse within a week but again I had to cancel appointments, as they were unable to offer an appointment towards the end of my working day. Extremely frustrating and inflexible service.
Mrs Wendy Moreline, Grays, Essex
Just a comment - booking appointments on the day does cut down on people missing their appointments, but even so, in the last two days, I have had three such patients fail to attend for their appointments. It is difficult to run any reliable system faced with such challenges.
Dr J, West Yorkshire
NHS waiting lists are only one issue. Under Labour, the entire Civil Service and Government Agencies have become entirely driven by inflexible targets set by politicians for political purposes. Targets go from high level ones such as "reduce waiting lists" right down to individual objectives set on employees. Even behaviour is the subject of targets now, with employees expected to tow the party line and not question superiors. All this is reminiscent of Stalinist Russia. There is a story about a Nail factory in Stalinist Russia, where their target was "produce nails, 20 tonnes" So they produced just one 20 tonne nail and met their target!
I find the complaints against the 48hr GP appointments unfair. For years, I couldn't see my GP within the 48hr bracket. Now, it is possible to see him in the same day! People who want to make appointment week ahead, often do not turn up in time, and they waste the time of their GP and other patients. You are lucky to see a doctor within 48hr, so what are they complaining about?
Jerald Portinee, London
What is really irritating about this debate is that Labour brought the targets in for the right reason, ie so people wouldn't have to wait a week or more for an appointment as used to be the case and also so GPs could reduce their workload. Unfortunately, some surgeries have adopted a rigid approach to this and have not offered advance appointments as well as 48 hour ones. For goodness sake, give some credit where credit is due. What's more, you can't expect the PM to know everything which is going on in every surgery! Get real.
Dr Liz Saunders, Worthing, West Sussex
I find it strange that Tony Blair was "astonished" at the complaint. How can it be news to him? Wasn't Labour supposed to have been "listening"? Who has Tony Blair been listening to?
Tim McElligott, Broxbourne, Herts
I doubt it's the GPs making the rules, more likely the bureaucrats that seem to run the practices. Like all public services these days, they are so overstaffed, they have plenty of time to think up stupid "rules". The old saying that "the devil makes work for idle hands" sums them up. I remember when a three GP practice had one receptionist, now my four GP surgery usually has at least four of them milling about in their office.
Neil Duffy, Devizes, England
Here's another case for having private medical cover. To anyone in a decent job it's affordable, not expensive and it means you dictate terms. Although I'm from the UK I live a lot in the US. People in UK should be grateful for the NHS. In the USA many people go bankrupt because of horrendous medical bills, and lose their house as well. Thank God for the NHS.
Ron Williams, Colorado Springs, USA
It shows Tony Blair and his government have little or no idea of what is actually happening on the ground. The Government needs to learn that just setting targets does not magically fix everything. They need to spend more time finding out what's actually happening locally.
Pieter Dyson, Manchester
The PM must be naive to believe that organisations aren't rearranging their work practices, and fiddling statistics in order to meet those targets, at the expense of the service users.
Ben Craig, London
My surgery will only take appointments for the next day and only via the phone - you have to be quick off the mark to get one.
Myles Boyd, Wootton Bassett England
Our GPs surgery changed to booking on the day because so many people didn't show up for pre-booked appointments. It's brilliant now - you can always get to see your GP on the day you phone. It's far, far better than ever it was before.
Carole Simpson, Nottingham
It's amazing that the government doesn't seem to know the knock-on effect of its 48-hour target for GP's surgeries. I was at my doctor's surgery at 8.05 this morning, going in person because I can't get through on the phone, and had found most of the appointments had already gone. Having said that, the current arrangement is still better than being told, when you or a member of your family is really ill, that there are no appointments available for the next week.
Judy Trewin, Brighton
We have no opportunity to pre-book, everyone is told to ring at 8.30 am. It makes appointment making extremely distressing even for routine visits. Both my husband and I are disabled have long term problems.
Lynn Standish-Dixon, Northwich
Why were some of the Question Time audience getting annoyed at not being able to book doctor's appointments a week in advance? How on earth do they know they'll still be ill in a weeks' time? This new 48 hour policy is a great idea and frees up the slots previously taken up by time wasters.
I don't know what the fuss is, since Labour came to office my GP's surgery has been rebuilt allowing more facilities for patients. I've had no problem getting appointments, even as emergency end of surgery appointments. When the Tories were in, the surgery was old and you had to wait four or five days for an appointment.
John Brannan, St Helens
The fact that Tony Blair needed to take part in a Question Time Election Special to find out the reality of seeing a GP only goes to show how out of touch he is.
I thoroughly support the new system. It used to be impossible to get an appointment with my doctor in less than a week. Now you can phone up and get an appointment the same day - a massive improvement.
Keith Turner, Melbourn, Cambridgeshire
Our practice operates a system where you have to ring between 8-8.30am for an appointment. This is fine, as we usually get an appointment, but it means we can't give much notice to work.
Nicola BR, Sevenoaks
For a commuter, not being able to book in advance means having to take a morning off to be able to phone. It's cheaper and more convenient to see a private GP in London, but then there's no continuity of care. Is this what the government intended?
Why are people slating Tony Blair over this issue? He is not personally responsible for the system adopted by individual GPs.
David, South London
Why would anybody want to make an appointment to see their GP in seven days time? If you are unwell, surely you would wish to see them ASAP? The 'ring on the day' system at our surgery ensures you normally see someone that day. Where's the problem?
Alun Wickham, Wombourne, Staffordshire
I've never experienced this problem. If I need an appointment in advance I can make the appointment, and if I need an appointment that day, I can call at 8.30am and usually get an appointment.
Amy , Aberdeen
The system of booking on the day is great. Before, under the Tories, you had to plan ahead to be ill to get an appointment with our doctor. People have very short memories.
B K-H, Devon
The service probably works well enough if you do not have a job to go to. The people who have no problem obviously don't have their own work targets to meet.
Jill, East Yorkshire
My GP offers first come first served sessions in the morning clinic, and appointment only in the afternoon clinic. It works really well because you can plan ahead for non urgent visits, but also get seen on the actual morning for urgent things.
We can ring and speak to a triage nurse who can either offer advice or get us an appointment with a doctor that day. The system works very well.
It is difficult to get appointments at our local surgery sometimes, but having people cancel appointments and attending with colds does not help. I wish people would realise a sniffle does not mean you have to see a doctor.
Brian Welsh, Aberdeen, Scotland
As an experienced GP, I was amazed last night when Mr Blair said he did not know about the chaos he has imposed upon us and our patients. Surely this shows a complete lack of responsibility.
D Gerton, UK
Our surgery demands that you call between 9-9.30 on the morning that you wish to see a doctor. If you can get through you are very lucky.
We are frequently told we cannot see our GP for anything up to a week. I fail to see where the 48 hour achievement comes from. Unless it is within 48 hours of the date they give us.
Robin Pike, Swadlincote, England
I don't understand the system my doctors use. They tell me their policy is not to book appointments more than seven days in advance. When I try to get an appointment, they never have any for the next seven days despite having set aside appointments for people who work 9-5.
Dominic, Plymouth, UK
The fact is most people don't actually need to see their GP within 48 hours. Too much GP time is taken up by appointments for issues that could be sorted out by phone.
My surgery used to be a quick, efficient walk-in type. If I needed to see the doctor, I would just turn up and wait about 30mins. Since Tony's Targets have been introduced, I have to phone and book an appointment no more than 24hrs in advance. I never understood why it changed, but now I do.
Glen, Welling, UK
The NHS is falling over itself with targets and daft schemes. I've had the same problem with booking a GP. You can only book appointments at 8.30am for the same day. It's a joke. Scrap targets and think of patients.
Dave, Manchester, UK
Our GPs surgery changed to booking on the day because so many people didn't show up for pre-booked appointments. It's brilliant now - you can always get to see your GP on the day you phone. It's far, far better than ever it was before.
Carole Simpson, Nottingham
With four children, Mr Blair should know about GPs appointments. However, it seems obvious that he has never made one. You need to take time off work in order to do the booking. Not good for the economy.
Maud, Tonbridge, Kent
The same day (within 24/48 hr) doctor booking system according to my then doctor (in Scotland) stopped people booking appointments days/weeks ahead and then not turning up. The change meant that if I wanted an appointment I could get one. Prior to the change you may well have had to wait a long several days/a week, call out the doctor or visit a hospital - all counter productive. A downside on the doctor's part was that they could not plan ahead to have spare time. I do not feel enough weight has been given to the benefits of the system.
Mike Trigger, Devon
I suffer from high blood pressure. I have to see my doctor every six weeks. Until last year I used to book my appointment about a week ahead. I can no longer do this. I can only book on the day and it is no good trying to telephone at 8am because it is impossible to get through, which means that I have to go to the surgery and stand in a queue.
Walter Binns, Drifield
I am a GP and our practice does not offer an appointment system. Patients attend on the day of their choosing and they will be seen on that day. This obviously results in their having to wait for variable amounts of time, but they know that they can be seen. We have carried out a patient questionnaire from a random sample of our patients and they do not wish us to have an appointment system. Unfortunately, we are financially penalised because we do not offer an appointment system. The government have indicated that they want patients to be seen within 48 hours (which we do), but that this must be with an appointment system.
TB, West Midlands
What do those who oppose delivery service targets want? The old hit and miss system whereby you never knew which school or health service provider was any good? What short memories some people have.
I have to admit I hadn't realised that was the reason why I had to telephone on the day. However, I have noticed this doesn't happen for every day only if I want an appointment on a specific day of the week, which I think is a Wednesday. Generally speaking my doctors surgery is good, very busy but good.
Valerie Caldwell, Leamington Spa, England
If there are going to be targets set for GPs. Surely it should be say within 48 hours of the patients requested appointment date.
Being able to make an appointment in the next 48 hours or seeing your own doctor is a luxury, my practice will only make an appointment on the day of the request.
+Graham Wren, Derby, Derbyshire
My doctor only allows appointments on the day. So if I can't get through I'm late for work and still haven't seen a doctor and have to go through the whole process the next day. My boss is not happy when this goes on for three or four days on the spin.
Kelvin Moon, Coalville
As a GP I very rarely see anyone with what I consider is an urgent problem. However, it is very important that we have the capacity to allay fears and worries in our patients who cannot possibly know if it's urgent or not. Every health page in every magazine says, "If you're worried, check with your GP". The media coverage of health has provoked mass 'cyberchondria'. We need more GPs. This situation is the result of a national shortage.
Zoe Goodman, Leeds, UK
My wife frequently has problems booking doctors' appointments for the children. She has to phone at 8:30 and if no morning appointment is available she is told to phone back at 1:30. However she teaches in the afternoons and cannot leave her classroom to phone. So she has to leave it until the next day and go through the whole process again. Advance bookings are not allowed, which is most frustrating.
Marcus Cullen, Camberley, Surrey
Since these targets have come in I've never seen the same doctor twice. I either have to ring in the morning on the day I want the appointment or wait a month to see my own doctor.
Mags, Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Amazing how out of touch a demagogue can be. I'm a locum GP. I work in many surgeries in central and south London. Every single one has to restrict or abolish advance appointments in order to meet the government's arbitrary targets. I won't be voting Labour again.
Desmond Persaud, Wimbledon, London
It proves that most of these statistics are worthless. The question we should be asking is how much it is costing the taxpayer to collect all these statistics.
Ian Baldwin, Buntingford, England
The truth is that for decades many GPs have stubbornly refused to change their methods of booking. Embargoing of appointments is simply their knee-jerk reaction to a target and a deadline. With will, forethought and careful management this can be remedied but other pressures are so great that it is not possible to prioritise this work.
Emma, Sheffield, England
Personally, I am astonished that Tony Blair thinks that the best way to react to ill-thought/applied targets, is to make another ill-thought out rush to change them. Targets work, but only if the implications are thought through - changing them on the basis of one question on Question Time is hardly sound practice.
My GP surgery also operates a book on the day appointment system. It can be a nightmare. It is virtually impossible to get through at 8am, I have tried before, constantly redialling and when I eventually get through all the appointments have gone so I have to start again at 1pm on the same day for afternoon appointments.
I work so have to book time off if I need to see the doctor but I can't do this as I don't know when I will be going. I have booked time off before and have been unsuccessful in getting an appointment that day. Mr Blair seemed genuinely surprised at this, but I can assure you this is what is happening. I'm more surprised hear it is only happening in 2% of practices. I would welcome proof of this.
I believe the system should change. In my country, Italy, there are only walk in GP surgeries, no appointment needed. I believe in this country we should be able to have the same, to be able to walk in, sit and wait and able to see the doctor the same day. I don't have particular problems with my GP at the moment as I always managed to get a same day appointment, but with my previous ones, I sometimes had to wait two weeks before to see a doctor which is ridiculous!
Like the PM I was astonished by this complaint, although unlike him I am ordinary citizen and user of NHS. Just last week I asked and got an appointment with my GP during this week, as I wanted. Nobody told me to come or call again within 48 hours limit.
I suspect the complaint, which has now become big issue for the media and the opposition, relates to a bad practice or dogmatic misinterpretation of a sensible effort to ensure that patients see their doctor within 48 hours if they need to - but not that they must. I am registered with a largish GP practice and never had or heard about this so-called problem. Probably as a patient I am out of touch like, according to media and Mr Lansley, is Mr Blair.
Ivan Klimes, Oxford
One of the major problems with doctor's surgeries has been the number of people who make appointments a week or more in advance and then can't be bothered to turn up, or cancel their appointment. The new system helps reduce that problem. Yet another storm in a teacup.
My surgery operates a system whereby you will usually get seen on the same day if you ring when the surgery opens at 8am. An appointment with your regular GP cannot however be guaranteed. Ten days ago I found a breast lump. As I carry out a school run between 8 and 8.25am I rang at 8.25am for three consecutive days asking to be seen by my own GP or a female doctor.
For all three days my own GP was unavailable and on the third day I did manage to see a female doctor. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so choosey. Since then however my treatment has been brilliant. I was seen a week later at a breast clinic where it was found I had two breast cysts. Everyone at the clinic was totally professional and wonderfully caring and I thank God they were there.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that there has to be some flexibility. My choice to see a female GP was my own but what about those women whose religion or other lifestyle demands it. If you are unable to ring at the beginning of surgery when are you likely to get seen?
Al, Guildford, Surrey
I'm not surprised that Tony Blair wasn't aware of the problem. Both my parents work for the NHS, namely as GP and Family Planning consultant. They work harder than anyone I know (ok I'm biased). They try their hardest to make things run smoothly but when they don't know what the NHS managers are doing or trying to do it doesn't help. The NHS managers quite often don't know what all the GPs and nurses really need so should we really be surprised that Tony Blair has trouble keeping up!
I have worked under the old system and the new regarding advanced access. When it is used properly by the GPs it works well, reducing workload for doctors, giving better access to patients and making life easier for receptionists. Dr Reid is completely wrong in saying that only 2% of practices embargo appointments. What 90% of practices do is to embargo appointments until the 48 hour mark. Those practices who truly offer advanced access find they have reduced patient demand and find work more manageable. The real question should not be whether practices are offering true advanced access, but why they are not when it is to everyone's advantage.
Dr Tim Coker, Southam Warwickshire
I've never had any problems with the system - I just phone up at 9am on the day I want an appointment, and usually within 10 minutes or so I have one later that day. I'm sure that in some places there are difficulties, but it's not a universal issue. Also, I think it's fair that Tony Blair didn't know about it - he can't be expected to know every detail about how all the government actually function, all of the time. Prime Ministers shouldn't have to mico-manage the country - they've got enough demands on their time as it is.
Rob, Cambridge, UK
Our GP surgery only allows appointments on the same day. You have to ring at 8am along with many others and if you're very lucky you get an appointment that day. There are no advance booking appointments at all. I have been trying to get to see my doctor for 3 weeks!
Jo, Bolton le Sands
I actually believe its a good system, I now get an appointment when I need it, instead of being told the next available is in 7 days time. It cuts out all those time wasters who do not show up for their appointments. But some allowance should be made for advance booking of routine appointments.
Paul, Nottingham, UK
This fact of life is something which the Prime Minister was not aware of. Just as he is not aware of the endless paperwork that has developed by other well-meaning policies affecting the police, health service, financial services and a host of other industries. Why don't politicians just get out of people's ever day lives and stick to what they're good at - whatever that may be!
P Thomas, St Helens
I have no problem getting same day appointments from my GP - in a brand new health centre funded by this government, just like the other brand new health centre that has been built down the road. The NHS might not be perfect, but huge sums of money are going into it under Labour and it is making a real difference.
Fabian, Bristol, UK
Mr Blair was totally lost when confronted with the procedure for doctors appointments. Lucky for him, he does have a private doctor
John Hindry, Fareham Hampshire
I was amazed that the prime minister was unaware of the fiasco of the GP appointment system and its appointment within 48 hours rule. Every one you speak to complains of this and other trivial irritations the public have to put up with in the health service. These rules filter down to the public very quickly - but when they go wrong the information does not seem to travel back to the top at all.
D Pallen, Enfield, Middx
I am a doctors' receptionist and the woman on Question Time who said they could only get an appointment in 48 hours was talking utter rubbish in my opinion. We have a same-day appointment system or a patient can pre-book up to six weeks ahead. If her doctor was failing over the appointment system, she should complain to the practice manager or change doctors. I have never heard of any other surgery running this kind of appointment system.
Angela Armstrong, Tyne and Wear
I'm amazed that he is astonished. Whenever targets are set it is human nature to work out ways to meet the letter without considering the intent. I am sure that similar behaviour is rife throughout all central and local government as well as the health service. Targets are not an alternative to good management.
Martin Kirk, Inverness, Scotland
My GP certainly follows government guidelines! One cannot get an appointment more than 24 hours ahead - hell for routine reviews of medication. They are as frustrated as the patients. The genius who thought of this one should be given the idiot-of-the-year award.
I think that the GPs have deliberately chosen to distort the rules here. It's obvious to me that what was actually meant by this 48 hours target was that if you need to see a doctor urgently and cannot wait a week for an advanced appointment then you should be able to see that doctor or a doctor within a 48hour period. The ruling was not meant to stop people from making advanced appointments. Thank God my surgery has not chosen to take this stupid viewpoint on the rules.
Lynn McGuire, Glasgow, Scotland
I am a mother who works full time and my GP surgery has same day appointments and it is brilliant. They do offer advance appointments but only for certain things and I think that is good because no longer do I have to wait two weeks to be ill. The only people who moan are the OAPs who want their visits to the doctors booked ages in advance. The surgery has less people missing appointments because you can't forget when you've booked that day!
My GP's surgery will not make appointments for the next day. Therefore you have to phone at 0830 each day. One day I finally got through at 1130, to be told that there were no appointments. I protested that I had a weeping rash that had started that morning. I was given a phone appointment and guess what? The doctor said that he would have to see the rash. So I managed to waste most of my day and take up two appointments instead of one. (I wonder if I counted as two patients.)
Roger Steer, Bristol, UK
A few years ago I had to wait a minimum of four days for a doctor's appointment. Now it's a maximum of two days, that's a huge improvement. OK, the booking system could be further improved to allow for advance bookings but please don't go back the old system.
John, Wiltshire, UK
On three occasions recently I have had to see a doctor, each time I was given an appointment within the hour. Never had a problem with the NHS, a wonderful service.
Mrs S Wadkin-Snaith, Bath, UK
My local surgery is fantastic. If you require an appointment for a morning, you call after 12pm the day before and if you want an afternoon appointment simply call that morning. It used to be the case where I was waiting for three to four days before I could get to see someone. I am very happy.
Harriet Hotchkiss, Lancaster, England
Saying he's "astonished" doesn't cut it. If the PM isn't in touch with life or death issues in his own country then no wonder he was out of touch on Iraq. Scary.
Pat B, London UK
In my experience of talking to other people, similar procedures are followed in most GP practices these days. Even scarier is that I hear from nurse friends that the same thing is happening in hospitals. Nurses cannot make follow up appointments on the spot because that would upset targets.
Lyn Cooper, London, UK
If I'm ill I'd like to see my GP as son as possible. However this is not possible because too many people are booking appointments weeks in advance and then don't turn up.
Mike Goalby, Marlborough
I did cringe for poor beleaguered Tony last night; this one really took him by surprise. Bound to happen when you are whisked off in a presidential style to any treatment you might need. I'd bet not many people in the government or our numerous palaces have clue about real life issues like seeing you doctor.
Alan Hodgson, Brighton, UK
I read that the NHS (or somebody) claim that this only affects 2% of surgeries. Well, it affects my parents, who live in South West Wales and it affects three of my work colleagues in Chippenham (who go to three different surgeries). How many more people fit into this small sounding 2%?
Well, you do have to wonder what planet the prime minister and the rest of this 'target driven' government inhabit. There have been enough stories in the press about the way in which NHS administrators shuffle patients around and 'massage' figures just to comply with government targets. At last 'the people' are getting their message across - we'll tell you what's actually happening in the country, Mr Blair.
David, London, UK
This is a common and old problem now. My mother was complaining that her GP was doing exactly that two years ago, refusing to allow you to book appointments more than 48 hours in advance, despite the havoc that it plays with her workplace. I don't usually agree with anything the Conservatives say, but if Tony Blair did not know about this then I'm afraid he is deeply out of touch.
Katherine, London, UK
The targets are obviously not defined as well as Blair and his government had hoped! In practice, they are terrible. I have to call on the day that I want an appointment. Thankfully I live close to my surgery, so I can just show up and organise an appointment that day, and may even get in right away. Still, this does not work for the majority, and it needs to. I also have private health care so if needs be, I can go that route, freeing up a place for someone else. And don't be fooled, even though I have private care coverage, I am still taxed on it! So I get hit twice in taxes and still at times have to wait as many consultants also work for the NHS!
This problem does exist. The fact that Tony Blair knows nothing about it is astonishing and shows just how out of touch he is with the real world. Then again I'm sure he doesn't ever have to wait to see his doctor!
DB, Sheffield, South Yorks
Mr Blair should have a clearer picture of how his policies are implemented locally. Setting targets are a good thing, but not if that means GPs will compromise the service they provide because they are striving first and foremost to meet those targets. Clear guidance should have been given to the GPs regarding this, instead of simply issuing statistical targets. I hate to agree with the Tories, but Mr Blair really is out of touch on this issue.
Jon Perrin, Lincoln, UK
I am pleased the lady raised the issue in the programme. My biggest gripe with the NHS is actually how my home GP's surgery has a quota system and you have to ring up at 8:30am or 3:30pm and keep on pressing redial for normally at least half an hour to have a fair chance of getting through by which time you are told all appointments have gone and try again later/tomorrow. What makes me angriest is that the surgery doesn't even think the system is as efficient as the old system!
Paul, Sheffield, UK
My complaint with GP's is a complete reverse of this. If I ring my GP today it takes between two to three weeks before he can see me.
Rizwan Saleem, UK
Doesn't this just say so much about these targets! Honestly, what is more important - being able to tick a box to say you've achieved a target, or being able to actually give your patients the time and attention they need, when they are able to see you?
Steve Brereton, York, UK
The fact that Mr Blair was unaware of the effects of his own policies shows just how totally out of touch he is.
Tim Walker, London
I never have a problem getting an appointment usually on the same day provided I call dead on 8:30 when the surgery opens. Trouble is, most of the time it is not an appointment with my regular GP. I usually get another GP who always tries to make me feel I am wasting their time and should just sit at home with some paracetamol!
The claims made in the programme match with my experiences. Hopefully this will highlight that much of the "improvement" within the NHS is down to number shuffling rather than real improvements in delivery.
Mark Lowes, Somerset